Virgin Orbit hoping for its first LauncherOne air-to-orbit launch in 2018.

Space News:

Virgin Orbit, the spinoff of Virgin Galactic that is developing the LauncherOne small launch vehicle, is now planning a first flight of that rocket in the first half of 2018, the company said Aug. 1.

Virgin Orbit updated the timetable for LauncherOne in a statement announcing the arrival of the rocket’s carrier aircraft, a converted Boeing 747, at Long Beach Airport in California, where Virgin Orbit has its manufacturing facility. The plane recently completed an extensive modification program to serve as the air-launch platform for LauncherOne.

The current payload is 300 kg at 500 km, at $12 million a pop: for the benefit of my readers who are used to real numbers, this is equivalent to putting something between the sizes of Sputnik 1 and 2 into an orbit that can easily enough reach the International Space Station. Put it even more simply: Virgin Orbit can’t yet put enough mass in orbit for a telecommunications satellite, but if they can keep the costs down that $12 million’s going to look appealing. Launches are expensive.

They also get points for using a modified 747. Kind of retro.

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