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By Cathy Hansen
contributing writer 

First nighttime launch for Virgin Orbit 'Straight Up' – 7 U.S. defense satellites launched

Short Flights


July 9, 2022

Photo credit: Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket under the wing of the company's Boeing 747 carrier aircraft at night.

Virgin Orbit originally planned to launch on June 29, but postponed the flight after finding the temperature of its rocket propellant were slightly out of bounds. The mission was rescheduled for Friday, July 1. Takeoff from runway 30 at Mojave Air & Space Port was at 10:50 p.m.

Launcher One was dropped at 11:53 p.m. Stage one and Stage two rockets fired as scheduled over the Pacific Ocean and second engine shutdown was at 12:01 a.m.

This is the fourth orbital satellite launch and the first one to be accomplished at night. Virgin Orbit's flying "launch pad" is a former Virgin Atlantic 47 airliner known as Cosmic Girl.

Pilot in Command, Eric Bippert, and Second in Command Pilot, Mathew "Stanny" Stannard, are flying this mission.

Behind the Name 'Straight Up' –

The launch name, Straight Up, pays homage to American singer Paula Abdul's breakthrough hit "Straight Up," from her debut studio album Forever Your Girl. Released through Virgin Records on June 21, 1988, it was the most successful debut album ever at the time of its release.

Abdul visited Mojave Air & Space Port on Thursday and had a tour of Cosmic Girl and received mission patches from the crew members.

Virgin Orbit Mission Overview

According to a press release from Virgin Orbit, "on the Straight Up mission, the U.S. Space Force will launch seven (7) satellites provided by multiple government agencies that will conduct experiments in space-based communications, in-space navigation, and climate change.

This mission, also known as STPS28A, was awarded to Virgin Orbit through our subsidiary Virgin Orbit National Systems by the U.S. Space Force Rocket Systems Launch Program (RSLP) as part of the Orbital Systems Program 4 (OSP-4) Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) program. The objective of the OSP-4 program is to provide flexible small launch capability using commercially designed launch systems designed to meet a variety of mission and Space Vehicle (SV) requirements.

U.S. Space Force has procured this launch for the Rocket Systems Launch Program (RSLP), with payloads provided by the DoD Space Test Program (STP).

The experiments on this mission will attempt to demonstrate novel modular satellite bus, space domain awareness, adaptive radio frequency technologies and explore climate change. STP-S28A was awarded to Virgin Orbit National Systems in April 2020 by the United States Space Force as a three (3) launch mission. The Straight Up launch will support the first of these launches, the STP-S28A mission.

The target orbit is 500km above the Earth's surface at 45 degrees inclination – an orbit that no other launch system has reached from the West Coast."

About Virgin Orbit

According to a press release from Virgin Orbit, "Virgin Orbit (Nasdaq: VORB) operates one of the most flexible and responsive space launch systems ever built. Founded by Sir Richard Branson in 2017, the company began commercial service in 2021, and has already successfully delivered commercial, civil, national security, and international satellites into orbit. Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rockets are designed and manufactured in Long Beach, California. The rockets are air-launched from a modified 747- 400 carrier aircraft, Cosmic Girl, which gives Virgin Orbit the flexibility to operate from locations all over the world in order to best serve the needs of each customer."

Quick facts –

• Virgin Orbit transports small satellites to space via LauncherOne, a responsive space launch system.

• Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rockets are designed and manufactured in Long Beach, California.

• The rockets are air-launched from a modified 747- 400 carrier aircraft, Cosmic Girl, which provides the flexibility for global operations.

• Virgin Orbit invests in space solutions that serve the small satellite industry.

• Virgin Orbit's mission is to open space for good, for everyone, from anywhere through agile and affordable space launch solutions.

Historic missions ahead –

"Virgin Orbit will have some exciting launches ahead. The company is slated to launch its system out of Cornwall, England, which will be the first time a rocket launch takes place from British soil, and the first commercial launch from Western Europe," according to Virgin Orbit. "Virgin Orbit's first international commercial rocket launch will carry a joint U.K. and U.S. mission scheduled for takeoff later this year."


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