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LauncherOne: Shaping Up and Shipping Out

Like a beautiful, 70-foot-long bird made of carbon fiber and science, the time has come for us to push our next rocket out of the nest.

This week, after a very hard drive by our teammates in our Long Beach factory, we waved good-bye to our latest test rocket. Our previous LauncherOne served valiantly through a battery of tests highlighted by several captive carry flights and especially by our flawless drop test. Our latest rocket — which has already been fully integrated, tested, checked, re-checked, analyzed, and triple-checked — is destined for a rigorous crucible of engineering demonstrations and tests of its own. The final demonstration for this rocket will also be the biggest test we’ve attempted as a team: during that test, we’ll fire up LauncherOne’s engine in flight and head for space for the first time.

Over the last month, we’ve subjected the rocket to an array of full-vehicle system checkouts. The work, ranging from electromagnetic interference (EMI) tests to guidance and navigation tests, from sequence tests to transmitter checks, has led us to quite literally poke, prod and inspect every aspect of this launch vehicle. And after each test we gathered to ask ourselves the hardest questions and dig deeply into the data. It took some time but in this business it pays to be incredibly thorough — we know full well what the historical odds are for maiden flights of brand new launch systems, and we intend to give ourselves the best chance of success.   

Now, we’ve shipped the rocket to our test site up in Mojave to begin our first proper launch campaign. If you don’t come from the aerospace industry, at this point you may be wondering: If the rocket is already fully built and tested, why don’t you just launch the dang thing tomorrow? 

Well, we can appreciate that all the rocket fans out there are in high anticipation of our first launch — just imagine how excited those of us who work here feel! But the lead up to first flight is not the time to take shortcuts. It’s crucial that every element comes together seamlessly. Our stage test campaign taught us how to safely operate the rocket and our ground support equipment, while our flight test campaign improved our understanding of how the two vehicles behave in the air. But as we gear up for our maiden flight, it’s the combination of the two that will be most important. The main takeaway from these final few exercises is verification of our integrated launch and flight systems.  

Our orbital test flight rocket is currently being installed into a newly built test stand in Mojave, where in the coming weeks we’ll run through a number of critical exercises, including loading and fueling with our mobile ground support equipment. We are prepping and practicing, making sure we know how to do everything we could conceivably ever need to do.  Then, it’s off to the skies — first for a captive carry flight, and then for the launch itself.

So, although it was somewhat of a bittersweet farewell, we’re thrilled that this rocket is on its way. We hated to see it go, but we can’t wait to see it fly away! 

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