What does it take to launch rockets into space from an airborne 747? Among other things, a reliable, high-speed internet connection is key to successful missions. And for Virgin Orbit that means adding a satellite connection to Cosmic Girl, the aircraft serving as the base for the LauncherOne system. The company selected Panasonic Avionics to provide the services for its operation.
We designed LauncherOne to be more mobile and flexible than any other platform out there, and that’s required us to implement innovative, cutting-edge solutions throughout the system. We’re grateful to Panasonic Avionics for their support — helping us keep eyes on our flight crew, Cosmic Girl, and the rocket as we fly out to our launch point. We’re certainly looking forward to having this technology in action during our upcoming launch demo.– Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart
The inflight connectivity service will enable Virgin Orbit to monitor the health of the launch system over land and sea. The high bandwidth capacity of Panasonic’s connectivity network will ensure Virgin Orbit’s mission control center can quickly and easily communicate with the rocket prior to launch.
Ken Sain, Chief Executive Officer of Panasonic Avionics Corporation, says, “Virgin Orbit is set to deliver an exciting step forward in satellite launching technology, and we are thrilled to support their vision with our inflight connectivity.”
The announcement of a connectivity vendor comes as Virgin Orbit prepares for its first LauncherOne orbital test flight. The window for that launch opens this weekend.
It follows a successful simulated drop/launch in mid-April.
Even with the high capacity Ku-band satellite network available from PAC there are increased challenges associated with the use of an airborne launch platform. Communications latency is the biggest risk factor, slowing ever so slightly the ability of the ground-based control team to react to anomalies in the launch sequence. This should not ultimately affect the operations, ever.
There is also something rather meta about using satellite-based communications systems to help manage in real-time the launch of new satellites from an airplane, especially knowing that some of satellites may eventually become part of a network that further improves the communications network available to that airplane. Though, for now, Virgin Orbit will be relying on Geostationary Orbit (GEO) satellites, not the lower orbiting, lower latency constellations of the future.