ISO 9001 & UKAS Registered, Electron Beam Services in the United Kingdom ISO 9001 & UKAS Registered, Electron Beam Services in the United Kingdom

On Sunday 17 January, Virgin Orbit successfully launched its first satellites into orbit, however, unlike any method ever used before, the company used an out of service 747 jumbo jet to launch a rocket from 35,000ft, meaning it is now possible to send spacecraft from anywhere in the world at a much lower cost than traditional rocket launches.

Engineering & Technology report that the specially modified 747, named Cosmic Girl, took off from California's Mojave desert on Sunday morning to fly out over the Pacific Ocean. An hour into the flight, the jet banked to the right, dropping its payload, a 21m-long rocket, called LauncherOne, which ignited its booster and climbed into space.

Currently, the only place that has a special license to launch such satellite-carrying planes is in California, but it is hoped that many more places will be granted permission in the near future. Virgin Orbit hopes to launch from Cornwall later in the year to tie in with the G7 summit in June.

The team behind Virgin Obit confirmed that the satellites onboard LauncherOne made it successfully into orbit a few hours after the launch.

"A new gateway to space has just sprung open," said Virgin Orbit chief executive officer, Dan Hart.

Space launches have always been massively expensive, and until recently has been carried out by governments. But there has been a growing interest in getting smaller, lower-cost satellites into orbit.

Many of these satellites are used to monitor weather and climate on Earth, while others turn their gaze outwards to study the universe. A vast number are also used for communications.

But some of the satellites launched on Sunday were about the size of a shoebox and had been developed by university research teams, to be used as part of Nasa educational missions. It is hoped that lower-cost launches will help smaller companies and organisations get equipment into space, and open up space exploration and research to many more people.

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