LOS ANGELES, July 10 (Xinhua) -- Space startup Virgin Orbit successfully completed its first drop test of a rocket from a Boeing 747 plane on Wednesday.
Virgin Orbit's 747 plane, nicknamed Cosmic Girl, took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California on Wednesday morning. After the plane reached about 35,000 feet, the typical cruising altitude for commercial aircraft, it released the rocket, which was filled with water and antifreeze to simulate the mass and center of gravity of a fueled rocket.
The rocket then slammed to the ground at a test range at Edwards Air Force Base.
Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said the drop test seemed to have gone exactly as planned, based on a video, pilot reports and preliminary data reviews.
Virgin Orbit, a space startup backed by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, is hoping to do its first test launch by the end of September, if a few more tests go well.
Unlike traditional rocket systems, which take off vertically from a launch pad, Virgin Orbit proposes to launch rockets horizontally.
The company's modified 747 plane, which has a lower deck completely stripped of passenger seats and overhead compartments but retains airline crew bunks in the cabin and cockpit, can take off from a typical runway with a rocket tucked under its wing. Then the plane climbs to 35,000 feet, drops the rocket and veers away.
During a real launch, according to company plans, the rocket and its payload will fall for four or five seconds, then ignite and hurtle toward space.
According to the Long Beach-based company, it has been advancing on three parallel streams of work in its final progression to launch, which are testing rockets on the ground, completing flight test programs, and building and preparing its first orbital rocket.