Virgin Orbit launched seven satellites using its LauncherOne system last night, Friday, July 1, during its first nighttime launch. While other companies like SpaceX or Rocket Lab use rockets for such launches, Virgin Orbit confirms a booster to a modified aircraft that takes it to 30,000 feet before being released. The booster then makes the rest of its journey into orbit, deploying its payload.
LauncherOne took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California at 10:50 PM PT, with the satellites on Saturday, July 2 at 12:55 PM PT. To watch the launch, you can watch a replay of the livestream below or on Virgin Orbit’s YouTube Channel†
“Congratulations to our team for completing another successful mission to space today!” the company wrote on Twitter† “We deployed a total of seven customer satellites in Low Earth Orbit as planned.” This was the company’s fourth commercial mission, following its previous satellite deployment mission in January of this year†
Friday’s mission was for the US Space Force and deployed seven satellites from various government agencies. These payloads include the compact Total Irradiance Monitor-Flight Demonstration (CTIM) small satellite, which will measure how much total energy is coming from the sun to Earth — a factor called “total solar radiation.” This is important for modeling the global climate, especially in the context of climate change.
“By far the dominant energy supply to Earth’s climate comes from the sun,” the project’s lead researcher Dave Harber of the University of Colorado, Boulder, said in a statement. pronunciation† “It’s an important input for predictive models that predict how Earth’s climate might change over time.”
The CTIM system is very small — it’s a shoebox-sized satellite called CubeSat — and it’s designed to test whether such small satellites can provide useful scientific data, even when measuring large factors such as total solar radiation. Previous instruments for measuring total solar radiation, such as the Total Irradiance Monitor (TIM) instrument on the Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment (SORCE) satellite, are much larger. If it is possible to get the same quality of measurements from a smaller satellite, it will be cheaper and easier to continue to measure this important factor in the future.