Cosmic Girl (aircraft)

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Cosmic Girl
Arriving on flight VS020/V from San Francisco to London Heathrow on 2013 October 5
Cosmic Girl with Virgin Atlantic livery as G-VWOW in 2013
Type Boeing 747-41R 44/32/310 [1][2][3]
Manufacturer Boeing
Construction number 32745[2][3]
Manufactured 2001 [1]
Registration
  • G-VWOW (2001–2015 with Virgin Atlantic) [1]
  • N744VG (2015-onwards with Virgin Galactic[4] and Virgin Orbit[5])
First flight August 2018 (planned) [6]
Owners and operators
In service
  • 2001 – October 2015 (Virgin Atlantic) [7]
  • November 2015 - October 2017 (Virgin Galactic) [4]
  • October 2017 onwards (Virgin Orbit) [5]
Status Airworthy, undergoing inspections and modifications for use as a launch platform for LauncherOne launch vehicles.
Aircraft carried LauncherOne orbital rocket

Cosmic Girl is a Boeing 747-400 aircraft. A former passenger airliner operated by Virgin Atlantic, she was purchased by Virgin Galactic in 2015 to be used as the first stage launch platform (or mothership) for the air launch stage of the smallsat orbital launch vehicle, the Mark II LauncherOne. In 2017, the aircraft was transferred to the orbital launch subsidiary, Virgin Orbit, and her livery updated to Virgin Orbit livery. Her first LauncherOne launch is planned for August 2018.[8]

Airliner[edit]

Cosmic Girl was assembled in 2001 at the Boeing Everett Factory.[2] She was configured as an 44/32/310 B747-41R,[1] c/n. 32745.[2] The aircraft's first flight was on 29 September 2001,[2] and she was delivered to Virgin Atlantic on 31 October 2001,[4] where she was registered as G-VWOW.[1]

On 3 November 2005 the aircraft was landing at Runway 27R at Heathrow Airport when a crosswind caused her to roll to the left, and the left-most (No. 1) engine hit the ground.[9]

Launch platform[edit]

The jetliner was in-service with the airline until October 2015. The airliner, previously leased from Boeing by Virgin Atlantic, was purchased from Boeing outright by Virgin Group for Virgin Galactic, and registered as N744VG, in November 2015.[4][7] A 747 was selected due to its carrying capacity. The acquisition of the 747 allowed dedicated carrying aircraft for both SpaceShipTwo and LauncherOne.[10] With the spinoff of Virgin Orbit in 2017, Cosmic Girl was also transferred.[5]

The air launch to orbit LauncherOne rocket was originally envisioned to operate from the smaller airplane WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) launch platform, used for the suborbital Tier 1b system of WK2 and SpaceShipTwo (SS2). However, as the size of LauncherOne expanded to better encompass the marketplace and acquire marketshare of small launches, the rocket outgrew WK2, leading to the evaluation of bigger launch aircraft, and the acquisition of Cosmic Girl for LauncherOne operations.[4][7] The use of a larger airplane allows doubling of LauncherOne payload capacity to 200 kg (440 lb), though with the selection of a 747, ultimately, 400 kg (880 lb) may be supported.[11] 747s have previously been used to air launch other craft, including the Space Shuttle Enterprise.[12] The use of Cosmic Girl marks the first use of a 747 as a space launch platform.[13]

The LauncherOne attachment pylon is situated on the left wing, where on a normal 747, the fifth engine attachment point is located for ferrying engines. This point is located between the fuselage and the left inboard engine.[7] LauncherOne would be dropped from Cosmic Girl at a height of 35,000 ft (11,000 m).[14] The maximum payload limit for LauncherOne operations on Cosmic Girl is 400 kg (880 lb).[15]

See also[edit]

  • Stargazer N140SC; the Orbital L1011 mothership for Pegasus rockets
  • Balls 8 52-008; the NASA NB-52B mothership for X-15 rocket planes, lifting bodies, and Pegasus rockets
  • WhiteKnightOne N318SL; the Mojave Aerospace Ventures mothership for the SpaceShipOne rocketplane
  • Shuttle Carrier Aircraft; the NASA B747 mothership that was used to air launch Enterprise

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e "The Virgin Atlantic fleet of aircraft" (PDF). Virgin Atlantic. Retrieved 23 September 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "N744VG Virgin Galactic Boeing 747-41R – cn 32745 / 1287". PlaneSpotters.net. Retrieved 23 September 2016. 
  3. ^ a b "Boeing 747 – MSN 32745 – G-VWOW". AirFleets.net. Retrieved 23 September 2016. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Chris Gebhardt and Nate Moeller (4 December 2015). "Virgin Galactic unveils Cosmic Girl, dedicated LauncherOne aircraft". NASAspaceflight.com. 
  5. ^ a b c "Ex-Virgin Atlantic G-VWOW is now with Virgin Orbit as N744VG "Cosmic Girl"". World Airline News. 10 October 2017. 
  6. ^ VCLS / ELaNa XX. Launch Schedule. Accessed: 27 January 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d Jeff Foust (4 December 2015). "Virgin Galactic Acquires Boeing 747 for LauncherOne Missions". SpaceNews. 
  8. ^ VCLS / ELaNa XX. Launch Schedule. Accessed: 27 January 2018.
  9. ^ "Boeing 747-41R, G-VWOW, 3 November 2005". Air Accidents Investigation Branch report. UK Government. Retrieved 23 September 2016. 
  10. ^ Virgin Galactic (7 December 2015). "Virgin Galactic - An Introduction to LauncherOne's Carrier Aircraft Cosmic Girl". 
  11. ^ Andrew Trotman (4 December 2015). "Richard Branson to launch rockets into space using Boeing 747". The Telegraph (London). 
  12. ^ Brian Mastroianni (4 December 2015). "Virgin Galactic plans to launch satellites from jumbo jet". CBS News. 
  13. ^ Virgin Galactic (4 December 2015). "Welcoming Cosmic Girl - Highlights". 
  14. ^ Christian Davenport (3 December 2015). "Richard Branson unveils his rocket's new "mothership," a 747 he calls "Cosmic Girl."". Washington Post. 
  15. ^ Matt Payton (4 December 2015). "Virgin to adapt a Boeing 747 into a flying launchpad for their Galactic spaceship". Metro.co.uk.