Billionaire Richard Branson’s space company Virgin Galactic has announced a new “mothership” it’ll be using to launch satellites into space.
The company has acquired and modified a Boeing 747-400 airplane, appropriately dubbed “Cosmic Girl,” which will carry Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne rocket to upper altitudes for an air launch. The plan basically calls for “Cosmic Girl” to carry a tethered rocket on the wing of the plane and take it up to around 35,000 feet. From there, the rocket will disconnect, fire its engine and shoot off into orbit.
The idea behind “Cosmic Girl” is one that’s been around for a while — get the satellites closer to space, and it makes for a cheaper launch process. It’s the same approach the company uses with is extremely cool SpaceShipTwo space plane (that tragic crash notwithstanding).
“Air launch enables us to provide rapid, responsive service to our satellite customers on a schedule set by their business and operational needs, rather than the constraints of national launch ranges,” said George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic CEO. “Selecting the 747 airframe provides a dedicated platform that gives us the capacity to substantially increase our payload to orbit without increasing our prices.”
In an interview with The Washington Post, Branson said he originally conceived Virgin Galactic as a human space travel company. But, after getting deeper into the space business, he realized satellites could be a key component. Long-term, he said he believes satellites are the key to expanding services like “WiFi or a mobile phone or the Internet” to poorer nations and Third World countries.
But, this being Branson, he’ll be launching those satellites in the coolest way possible. Viva la “Cosmic Girl.”