Watch Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit launch satellites to space with a 747 jet

  • Virgin Orbit, the satellite-launching spinoff of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, is embarking on its second mission of the year.
  • The mission will send seven small satellites into orbit.
  • Virgin Orbit uses a modified Boeing 747 aircraft to launch its rockets, a method known as air launch.

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Virgin Orbit, the satellite-launching spinoff of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, is embarking on its second mission of the year from off the coast of California on Wednesday.

The mission, called "Tubular Bells: Part One," will launch four cube satellites under the U.S. Department of Defense's Space Test Program, as well as a small satellite for the Royal Netherlands Air Force and two imaging satellites for Polish company SatRevolution.

The company expects to launch the rocket at about 10:45 a.m. EDT.

Virgin Orbit uses a modified Boeing 747 aircraft to launch its rockets, a method known as air launch. Rather than launch rockets from the ground, like competitors such as Rocket Lab or Astra, the company's aircraft carries its LauncherOne rockets up to about 45,000 feet altitude and drops them. The rocket then fires its engine and accelerates into space – a method the company touts as more flexible than a ground-based system.

The mission on Wednesday will release the rocket above the Pacific Ocean beyond California's Channel Islands.

LauncherOne is designed to carry small satellites that weigh up to 500 kilograms, or about 1,100 pounds, into space. Virgin Orbit completed its first successful launch in January, and plans to conduct its second later this month.

Virgin Orbit, wholly separate from Virgin Galactic, is privately held by Branson's multinational conglomerate Virgin Group, with a minority stake from Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund Mubadala.

The company is in talks with SPAC NextGen Acquisition II to go public at a valuation of about $3 billion, a source told CNBC earlier this month, with a deal expected to be announced in the coming weeks. Virgin Orbit has not publicly commented on the plan to go public.

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