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Straight up, now tell me—do you really want to launch rockets forever, Virgin Orbit? Or is this just a one-and-done?
With a mission like “Straight Up” on the manifest, it’s hard to resist going a bit overboard with the Paula Abdul puns.
During a Tuesday press conference, Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said he’d listened to the 1988 pop smash—released by Virgin Records, by the way—hundreds of times in the last few weeks as the team gets psyched up for its first nighttime launch.
Long Beach-based Virgin Orbit has launched three missions since January 2021, but all of them have been during the day. Proving it can execute the same directives flawlessly at night is key to Virgin’s ability to remain a competitor for government contracts alongside rivals like SpaceX, Rocket Lab and Blue Origin. A rocket firm that can launch around-the-clock is a big draw for the U.S. government, which is increasingly sending up more satellites and looking to widen launch windows.
Hart said the mission isn’t required to launch at night, but added that it’s a good training ground for upcoming contracts. “It’s expanding the envelope and going through the [operations] for nighttime missions, because we have some of those on our books that are required,” he said. “We want to make sure we do them first in our backyard here in Mojave.”
The “Straight Up” launch window will open around 10 p.m. on June 29, Virgin Orbit said. The mission will lift off from Virgin’s launch site at the Mojave Air and Space Port and carry satellites for the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program.
Virgin’s approach to launching rockets is unusual compared to its competitors, which maintain pricey launch pads at bases around the globe. Instead of taking off from the ground, Virgin straps its rockets to the bottom of its “Cosmic Girl” craft, a customized Boeing 747. Once the plane hits 30,000 feet, pilots release the rocket booster for an air launch and thrusters carry the payload into orbit.
“I can't be prouder of the team that has driven forward what was initially a new technology of air launch and now driving it through operational launch after launch,” Hart said. “Here [there’s] a high degree of focus; every single launch requires the same level of detail and discipline.”
Yesterday Virgin announced that it had expanded its operations into Brazil and plans to conduct its first air launch from South America by 2023.
“Countries having the ability to access space directly is becoming a very important capability globally,” Hart noted. “We're seeing the globalization of space, in that countries are realizing that space is important for their economy, their understanding of their resources and their region, as well as their national security.”
Hart said that while all systems are a go for Virgin’s scheduled launch tomorrow, the Mojave Space Port is still fixing some runway issues after last week’s lightning storm—so don’t be surprised if the launch window is pushed back slightly.
Virgin won’t live stream the launch because it’ll be dark out, but it will start pre-flight operations coverage and launch commentary on YouTube and Twitter tomorrow evening. — Samson Amore
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Netflix Turns To Asia To Boost Its Stalled Subscriber Growth
Netflix will invest more in Asia in a bid to revive its sluggish subscriber growth—betting on the lone region where the company added customers during an otherwise disappointing first quarter.
TikTok Parent ByteDance Hits $1B in Mobile Games Sales
ByteDance's heavy investment in mobile gaming is paying off. Its most lucrative title, “Mobile Legends: Bang Bang,” generated 78 million downloads and $318 million in revenue in the past year.
What We’re Reading Elsewhere...
- Glendale-based ServiceTitan acquires home-repair scheduling site Schedule Engine.
- Romeo Power takes another step toward completing its new manufacturing facility in Cypress.
- NBCUniversal partners with Roku to stream local news coverage.
- Rocket Lab successfully launches its Capstone mission to orbit the moon.
- Disney Plus drops exclusive distribution deal with Israel's satellite TV company YES.
- Irvine-based cannabis marketing company Petalfast partners with Turning Point Brand, best known for their Zig Zag rolling papers.
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