Virgin Orbit had a successful first commercial launch, meaning there’s now officially another small satellite launch provider in operation with a track record of delivering payloads to space. Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket took off from its carrier aircraft at around 11:45 AM EDT today, and the spacecraft had a successful series of engine fires and stage separations to make the trip to low Earth orbit.
On board, Virgin Orbit carried seven payloads, including the first-ever defense satellite for the Netherlands, as well as cubsats developed by the U.S. Department of Defense for its Rapid Agile Launch initiative. The initiative is seeking to test the viability of flying small spacecraft to space on relatively short notice on launch platforms with increased flexibility, which Virgin Orbit’s provides thanks to its ability to take off horizontally from more or less conventional runways.
Virgin Orbit also carried two Earth observation satellites for Polish startup SatRevolution, and it will be delivering more in future flights to help build out that company’s planned 14-spacecraft constellation.