Virgin Orbit, a leading satellite launch company, will acquire two Boeing 747-400 airframes to support the growing need for U.S. national security and allies’ satellite launch demands.
In a statement released on the company’s website, L3Harris Technologies, an aerospace and defense technology firm, will modify one of the newly acquired aircraft, which will serve as an additional airborne launchpad for Virgin Orbit’s satellite launch service.
Delivery of the aircraft is expected in 2023.
According to the statement, L3Harris will also overhaul the platform with a new cargo configuration, allowing Virgin Orbit to deliver its rockets and ground support equipment in the same aircraft that will launch from foreign spaceports.
“Virgin Orbit is at an exciting juncture in our growth as a company,” said CEO Dan Hart. “As we expand our fleet to serve customers worldwide, we’re enthusiastic to once again partner with L3Harris.”
Virgin Orbit and L3Harris Technologies previously partnered on Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne program. This partnership brought forth Virgin Orbit’s first customized 747-400 aircraft ‘Cosmic Girl’ acquired from Virgin Atlantic and designed to carry and deploy payloads to Low Earth orbit.
According to the statement, Virgin Orbit’s ‘Cosmic Girl’ has completed three commercial launches and deployed 26 satellites belonging to its commercial, government and military customers into orbit.
“It’s inspiring for our team to see L3Harris’ aircraft engineering and modification experience in action on a mission-enabling platform that has performed brilliantly in its space launch role,” said Luke Savoie, president, ISR Systems, L3Harris. “We’re excited to help double Virgin Orbit’s innovative fleet so they can serve their customers with greater capacity and mission flexibility.”
‘Cosmic Girl’ is expected to undergo its first launch from Spaceport Cornwall in the United Kingdom during the latter half of 2022.