Stratolaunch to acquire Virgin Orbit Boeing 747 launch aircraft

Conceptual rendering of Stratolaunch 747 air-launch vehicle, in launch configuration with the reusable Talon-A hypersonic testbed.
Credit: Stratolaunch / Delta Research Digital Products

Stratolaunch LLC has announced that it has received approval to acquire Virgin Orbit’s modified Boeing 747 ‘Cosmic Girl’ and its related parts and equipment. The acquisition is expected to close by July 31, 2023.

Cosmic Girl is a modified Boeing 747-400 that was originally used by Virgin Orbit to carry its LauncherOne rocket to altitude.

LauncherOne is a small satellite launch vehicle that is carried under Cosmic Girl’s left wing and released mid-air.

The Virgin Orbit 747 Cosmic Girl lifts off at night.
Photo Credit: Virgin Orbit

Stratolaunch and hypersonic vehicle testing

Stratolaunch is involved in developing a two-aircraft system for launching hypersonic vehicles. The company’s first aircraft, the Stratolaunch Model 351, is the world’s largest airplane with a wingspan of 117 meters.

The Model 351 will carry the company’s Talon-A hypersonic vehicle to altitude and release it for flight testing.


The acquisition of Cosmic Girl will now allow Stratolaunch to further expand its hypersonic flight-testing capabilities.

The Boeing 747 is a larger and more capable aircraft than the Model 351, and it can carry heavier payloads. This will allow Stratolaunch to test larger and more complex hypersonic vehicles.

Conceptual rendering of Stratolaunch 747 air-launch vehicle, anticipated to be operational in 2024. Credit: Stratolaunch / Delta Research Digital Products

Stratolaunch is a technology accelerator that enables reusable and routine hypersonic testing through world-class aerospace vehicles and in-flight test capabilities.

Upon the closing of the acquisition, Cosmic Girl will be repurposed as a launch platform for Stratolaunch’s Talon-A reusable hypersonic testbeds and is expected to be fully operational in 2024.

The expansion of Stratolaunch’s fleet will increase its in-flight test capacity and ability to support government and commercial customers globally.

“The addition of this aircraft is a transformational milestone,” said Dr. Zachary Krevor, President and CEO of Stratolaunch. “With Roc remaining as our mainstay aircraft, an additional 747 brings expanded capabilities and flexibility to our platform.”

The acquisition of the modified 747 follows Stratolaunch’s first successful Talon-A vehicle separation test on May 13.

During the separation release trial, Stratolaunch demonstrated clean and safe separation of hypersonic vehicles and confirmed telemetry between the vehicles and on-the-ground communication assets.

With this landmark test complete, Stratolaunch will progress toward its first hypersonic flight of the TA-1 expendable testbed in late summer 2023.     

Krevor continued: “The need for hypersonic testing has never been greater and we are committed to fulfilling this national imperative.”

“We are making tremendous strides as we continue to enable the future of hypersonic testing. With the recent successful Talon-A separation test, we are excited to prepare for our first hypersonic flight of the TA-1 testbed.”

Following the purchase finalisation, Cosmic Girl will undergo maintenance and modification to accommodate its new hypersonic test mission. The launch platform will also be renamed in the coming months.

A Virgin Orbit Boeing 747 takes off in Mojave Desert carrying LauncherOne rocket.
Photo Credit: Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit failed Cornwall launch

On January 9 this year, Virgin Orbit attempted to launch its LauncherOne rocket from Spaceport Cornwall in the United Kingdom. The rocket was carried to altitude by Cosmic Girl but the rocket failed to reach orbit and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.

The failure of the launch was a major setback for Virgin Orbit. The company had been planning to launch a series of missions from Spaceport Cornwall in 2023. However, the failure of the first launch forced the company to delay its plans.

The Virgin Orbit 747 aircraft above the clouds.
Photo Credit: Virgin Orbit

In addition to the delay, the failure of the launch also had a financial impact on Virgin Orbit. The company had to spend millions of dollars to repair the rocket and Cosmic Girl. The company also lost revenue from the failed launch.

The failure of the launch and the financial impact led Virgin Orbit to file for bankruptcy in March 2023. The company is currently in the process of restructuring its debt and seeking new investors.

The acquisition of Cosmic Girl becomes a significant development for Stratolaunch. The company is now well-positioned to become a leading player in the hypersonic flight-testing market.

By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 5 Min Read
5 Min Read
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