The following is an excerpt from Chris Isidore | December 4, 2015 | CNN.com |
Virgin Galactic is using an old 747 to launch rockets into space.
The plane, dubbed "Cosmic Girl," was formerly used by sister company Virgin Atlantic to fly passengers from Europe to the United States. In its second life, it will launch unmanned rockets carrying small satellites into earth orbit.
Cosmic Girl will carry the satellite and the small rocket, dubbed LauncherOne, under its left wing. After reaching its top altitude, the rocket will detach and fall away from the plane. The rocket's engine will then ignite to get the rest of the way into space.
The horizontal launch from a plane is also how Virgin Galactic plans to carry space tourists into short suborbital fights into outer space. But a different, specially designed plane will carry the manned missions, and those flights will not reach orbit the way the satellites do.
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