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Virgin Orbit scrubs first night launch due to propellant temperature being ‘out of bounds’

The ‘Straight Up’ mission will hopefully fly soon

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl, with LauncherOne under its wing
Image: Virgin Orbit

Small satellite launcher Virgin Orbit postponed its first night launch on Wednesday after finding that the temperature of its rocket propellant was “slightly out of bounds.” The company is figuring out when to move ahead with the launch in the next few days.

This mission — called “Straight Up” in homage to the 1988 song by Paula Abdul — is for the US Space Force and will carry seven small satellites for the Space Test Program. It’ll be the fifth mission for Virgin Orbit and the second one since the company went public through a SPAC merger. The launch was originally set to occur out of Mojave, California, during a launch window that opened at 1AM ET, which would have marked the first launch at night for the company.

To get satellites to space, Virgin Orbit — an offshoot of Richard Branson’s space tourism venture Virgin Galactic — uses a somewhat unique air launch approach. The company’s primary rocket, LauncherOne, is designed to take off from underneath the wing of a 747 called Cosmic Girl. The plane flies out over open ocean and carries the rocket to an altitude of 35,000 feet, where the booster is then released and ignites its main engine to propel its payloads into orbit.

After this flight gets off the ground, Virgin Orbit will have some exciting launches ahead. Later this year, the company is slated to launch its system out of Cornwall, which could be the first time a rocket launch takes place from British soil, according to Virgin Orbit.