A member of the RAF is set to launch the Virgin Orbit space rocket over the Pacific

Image credit: The Independent

On Thursday, RAF pilot Matthew Stannard will fly a jumbo jet over the Pacific Ocean as it launches a rocket into orbit.

The aviator is now attached to Virgin Orbit, Sir Richard Branson’s satellite launch company, which will attempt to launch seven satellites.

Stanny, as he’s nicknamed, is more used to shooting missiles from fighter jets like the Tornado and Typhoon. It will be a novel experience to launch a 21-meter (70-foot) space rocket.

The Ministry of Defence in the United Kingdom expects to use Virgin Orbit to launch military satellites in the future and is establishing a pool of knowledge in preparation.

Sir Richard Branson’s Long Beach, California-based business will launch its third mission on Thursday.

His 747-and-LauncherOne combo has successfully launched 19 satellites in the past. One of the seven on the newest manifest was made in Glasgow by Spire Global and tracks meteorological conditions, as well as ship and plane movements, from orbit.

He’ll take off over the Pacific, the rocket nestled neatly beneath the old Virgin Atlantic jumbo’s left-wing.

About an hour after take-off, at an altitude of 35,000 ft (10 km), the liquid-fueled booster will be unlatched and go into freefall.

Four seconds later, LauncherOne will fire its first-stage engine as Flt Lt Stannard banks his 747 hard to the right to begin the ascent to orbit.

Virgin Orbit plans to launch six space missions this year, two of which will take off from Cornwall’s Newquay Airport.

The first of these UK events might take place as early as June or July, depending on how swiftly licence paperwork is processed by the Civil Aviation Authority of the United Kingdom. The CAA’s first concern is safety, and it will not approve any launch until it is convinced that all contingencies have been addressed.

On Wednesday, the CAA told the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee that it had received four formally submitted licencing applications (others from a variety of possible spaceport/rocket operators are in the pre-application stage).

When asked if this meant a debut in the UK this year, the authority’s policy director, Tim Johnson, remained tight-lipped.

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