WASHINGTON: Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit project on Sunday (Jan 18) successfully flew a rocket into space from the wing of a Boeing 747 plane, paving the way for a new method of launching low-cost satellites.
It was the company's second attempt at the feat after a failed test in May.
"LauncherOne has reached orbit! Everyone on the team who is not in mission control right now is going absolutely bonkers," the company tweeted from its Twitter account at 2.49pm (Monday, 3.49am, Singapore time).
The plane took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in the desert north of Los Angeles and launched the rocket over the Pacific Ocean.
A 21.34m LauncherOne rocket was released from beneath the wing of the aircraft off the coast of Southern California, ignited moments later and soared toward space.
The two-stage rocket carried a cluster of very small satellites known as CubeSats developed and built as part of a NASA educational program involving US universities.
The rocket's upper stage was scheduled to coast for a period and then relight to circularise the orbit before deploying the satellites.
The flight developments were announced on social media. The launch was not publicly livestreamed.
Virgin Orbit, based in Long Beach, California, is part of a wave of companies targeting the launch market for increasingly capable small satellites, which may range in sizes comparable to a toaster on up to a home refrigerator.
Competitor Rocket Lab, also headquartered in Long Beach, has deployed 96 payloads in 17 launches of its Electron rocket from a site in New Zealand. Another of its rockets was nearing launch Sunday.
Virgin Orbit touts the flexibility of its capability to begin its missions by using airports around the globe.
Virgin Orbit attempted its first demonstration launch in May 2020.
The rocket was released and ignited but only briefly flew under power before it stopped thrusting. The lost payload was only a test satellite.
The company later said an investigation determined there was a breach in a high-pressure line carrying cryogenic liquid oxygen to the first-stage combustion chamber.
Virgin Orbit is separate from Virgin Galactic, the company founded by Branson to carry passengers on suborbital hops in which they will experience the sensations and sights of spaceflight.
Virgin Galactic expects to begin commercial operations this year in southern New Mexico.