Virgin Orbit mates rocket to jet for airborne launch system

In this Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018, photo released by Virgin Orbit, a completed LauncherOne rocket hangs from the wing of Cosmic Girl, a special Boeing 747 aircraft that is used as the rocket's "flying launch pad," at the Long Beach Airport in Long Beach, Calif. The system is intended to carry small satellites into orbit. Virgin Orbit is a sister company of Virgin Galactic, which is developing an air-launched rocket plane for carrying tourists on suborbital flights into space. (Greg Robinson/Virgin Orbit via AP)

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Southern California-based Virgin Orbit has reached a milestone in developing its airborne orbital launch system.

The company says this week it mated a LauncherOne rocket to a special Boeing 747 at Long Beach Airport and will soon begin a series of flights that will culminate with a drop test in which the booster will be released from beneath the jet’s left wing.

The system is intended to carry small satellites into orbit.

Virgin Orbit is a sister company of Virgin Galactic, which is developing an air-launched rocket plane for carrying tourists on suborbital flights into space.

Virgin Orbit said it already has hundreds of millions of dollars worth of launches on contract for a wide range of customers including NASA and the U.S. Defense Department.

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