Science

Virgin Orbit targets June launch window for U.S. Space Force collaboration

"Straight Up" is Virgin Orbit's next collaboration with the U.S. Department of Defense.

Virgin Orbit will fly seven satellites for the U.S. Space Force as early as this week — and took a little inspiration from the pop music world in announcing it. In a clever marketing move, the company named its mission “Straight Up” after the popular 1988 song by Paula Abdul, connecting Virgin Orbit to the brand’s origins as Virgin Records, which released the song.

Straight Up will fly on Wednesday at the earliest, from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. Billionaire Richard Branson founded Virgin Orbit in 2017, which began its commercial service last year and has to date completed three missions (including an unsuccessful debut). Starting Wednesday, Virgin Orbit will aim to loft its LauncherOne rocket with its U.S. government-agency payloads at night to an altitude of 500 km. LauncherOne will hitch a ride on the underside of a modified 747 carrier plane called Cosmic Girl.

Straight Up will support the U.S. Space Force’s STP-28A mission and carry payloads for the Department of Defense (DoD) Space Test Program (STP). Virgin Orbit has already flown eight DoD Science and Technology demonstrations on two previous flights, according to company officials.

Before LauncherOne takes off, the team will need to address the aftermath of a recent lightning storm. The tempest caused some runway issues, Virgin Orbit officials said during a press call on Tuesday ahead of the start of its launch window.

Virgin Orbit’s Launch Demo 2 in January 2021. PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP/Getty Images

Virgin Orbit officials also said that the plans for the first licensed space launch in the United Kingdom, set to take place in Cornwall, are progressing and that they are looking at a September time frame for that launch. They said the company is having ongoing conversations with the country’s Civil Aviation Authority and the Royal Air Force. Once it completes Straight Up, the company will move on to the Cornwall launch.

The flight comes at a time of increased tensions in space, CEO Dan Hart said Tuesday. “More and more, we are seeing the importance of space to the security of the U.S. and allied countries,” he said in a Straight Up announcement. “We are honored and committed to supporting the Space Force at this critical time.”

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