Virgin Orbit’s Boeing 747 flew for the first time with a LauncherOne space rocket attached on Sunday, just one week after the modified jumbo jet performed high-speed taxi tests.
The space company, founded by Sir Richard Branson, said it was the first time a Boeing 747 has ever carried a rocket in flight (though NASA transported space shuttles on modified 747s).
The 80-minute test over Victorville, California was “a picture-perfect flight, and a major step forward in our quest to bring a new capability to small satellite launch,” Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said in a news release.
Virgin Orbit expects to use the Boeing 747-400, named Cosmic Girl, for LauncherOne launches to orbit in 2019 and is building and testing rockets at its manufacturing facility in Long Beach, California.
Virgin Orbit also has launch operations at the Mojave Air and Space Port, where late billionaire Paul Allen’s competing Stratolaunch Systems space business is testing a massive aircraft powered by six Boeing 747 engines.