Virgin Orbit’s 747 Cosmic Girl and rocket LauncherOne | Image: Virgin Orbit

Small satellite launcher Virgin Orbit — the sibling company to Richard Branson’s space tourism venture Virgin Galactic — plans to conduct the first test launch of its rocket today. The company has been developing and testing its vehicles for the last six years, but now it’s ready to finally send a rocket to orbit.

Virgin Orbit’s primary rocket is called LauncherOne, capable of launching small to medium payloads, roughly the size of washing machines, to space. And the rocket takes a unique path to get there. Rather than launching upright from the ground — as the majority of rockets do these days — LauncherOne actually takes off from underneath the wing of a Boeing 747 airplane. Nicknamed Cosmic Girl, the 747 is designed to carry…

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