Space Commerce

Virgin Orbit’s 747-400 Rocket Launch Platform Lands in Long Beach Airport

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
August 1, 2017
Filed under ,
Virgin Orbit’s 747-400 Rocket Launch Platform Lands in Long Beach Airport
Cosmic Girl
Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit employees and customers welcomed home Cosmic Girl, the 747-400 rocket launch platform that will soon launch small satellites to orbit.
They were joined by Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, city councilmembers and Long Beach Airport officials who greeted Cosmic Girl and flight crew with a champagne toast and water canon salute. The 747-400 was crewed by Cosmic Girl’s chief pilot Kelly Latimer and co-pilot Richard Nelson.

Virgin Orbit has been headquartered in Long Beach since 2015 when it moved into a 180,000 square foot state-of-the-art manufacturing facility. Cosmic Girl’s homecoming into Long Beach Airport marked the end of the inspection and modification phase conducted with Virgin Orbit’s aircraft modification partner L3 Platform Integration and maintenance partner VT Aerospace. The FAA issued Cosmic Girl an Experimental Airworthiness Certificate, permitting flight tests to commence. Launches will occur in Mojave Air and Space Port.

Virgin Orbit’s unique air launch platform frees small satellite customers from fixed ground infrastructure, traffic jams on the ranges, and unfavorable weather conditions. Cosmic Girl will carry the LauncherOne rocket to at an altitude of approximately 35,000 feet before release for its rocket-powered flight to orbit. The 747-400 aircraft has many attributes that contribute to the ideal dedicated ride for small satellites: the aircraft’s large and robust rocket carrying capacity, operational flexibility, long range, ability to operate in many kinds of weather, and existing 747-400 experience, maintenance, and spare parts supply chains.

Virgin Orbit designs, builds and tests LauncherOne inhouse and is at the forefront of composite structures, liquid rocket engines, ultra-responsive launch systems, ruggedized avionics and optimized flight software, automated flight safety systems, and advanced manufacturing techniques. The synergy of these technologies enables unparalleled responsiveness to commercial and government small satellite markets. LauncherOne is capable of delivering 300 kilograms to a 500 kilometer Sun-Synchronous Orbit. The first flight is scheduled to occur in the first half of 2018.

Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart: “Long Beach has long been the home of aerospace innovation, and we are thrilled that after months of significant modification work, Cosmic Girl, our first stage to orbit, is finally home. Virgin Orbit is in the home stretch of integrating our LauncherOne rocket and ground systems for launch and to support our customers’ missions. Thanks to the support of the City of Long Beach and the Long Beach Airport, we employ and partner with some of the most talented aviation and aerospace engineers and technicians in the country. We look forward to keeping Long Beach’s aerospace heritage vibrant and enabling our customers to achieve space access.”

Virgin Orbit Vice President of Launch Tim Buzza: “It has been amazing to watch Cosmic Girl transform from a commercial airliner to a flying launchpad. We are excited to begin our flight test program and continue towards our vision of launching anyone, anywhere, any time.”

About Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit will provide dedicated, responsive, and affordable launch services for small satellites. Founded by Sir Richard Branson and owned by the Virgin Group and Aabar Investments PJS, Virgin Orbit and its sister companiesVirgin Galactic and The Spaceship Companyare opening access to space to change the world for good. To launch the small satellite revolution, Virgin Orbit is developing LauncherOne, a flexible launch service for commercial and government-built satellites. LauncherOne rockets are designed and manufactured in Long Beach, California, and will be air-launched from a dedicated 747-400 carrier aircraft capable of operating from many locations in order to best serve each customer’s needs. Virgin Orbit’s systems are currently in an advanced stage of testing, with initial orbital launches expected soon. To learn more or to apply to join Virgin Orbit’s talented and growing team, visit

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.