Virgin Orbit halts flight testing as Covid-19 cases increase

The Los Angeles-based startup, which hopes to blow satellites into orbit via a rocket launched from the wing of a 747 aircraft, said in a series of tweets that as infection rates in the area “ skyrocket, ” the contact finding Virgin Orbit has placed so many employees in “precautionary quarantine” that the company does not have enough staff to support an upcoming test flight of its LauncherOne missile.

The company said it has followed security protocols in its facilities. Virgin Orbit said a “littleof the team members had tested positive, although none of the cases had been transferred between employees.
The infection rate in Los Angeles County, as in many places in the United States, has risen sharply since Thanksgiving. And while the first vaccinations will be provided to health professionals on Monday, healthy adults under 65 and children may have to wait well into 2021 for vaccines to become available.

Virgin Orbit, like other space technology companies in the United States, is allowed to continue operations during the pandemic, as the government considered the space sector in March as part of the country’s ‘critical infrastructure’. As one industry group argued, the industry’s commercial activity is also intertwined with critical U.S. national security projects and NASA programs.

Virgin Orbit’s planned test launch was the company’s second attempt to put its LauncherOne rocket into orbit. An earlier test launch in May was cut short when the rocket’s engine stalled shortly after it detached from its mothership, a Boeing 747 aircraft nicknamed Cosmic Girl. The missile was left to fall in the Pacific.
In recent months, Virgin Orbit said it has conducted several ground tests, including shipping a LauncherOne rocket to rural Mojave, California – where its sister company, space tourism company Virgin Galactic, also has facilities – and mounting it to a test. stand intended to mimic Cosmic Girl’s grand piano. Engineers then fed the missile and went through all the steps the missile would take during an actual test flight, and the company considered it a “great success.”
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Virgin Orbit was derived from Virgin Galactic in 2017, which focuses on sending tourists on suborbital flights that are about 80 kilometers high.

Virgin Orbit then said it planned to conduct a second test launch before the end of the year, and a Federal Aviation Administration-certified launch was scheduled for this weekend.

But the company said that after completing an attempt to trace contacts last Friday, it decided to halt a final refueling test of its missile midway through that operation so that managers could “make a clear assessment before proceeding.”

“Given the timelines associated with accurate Covid-19 test results, this will affect our launch schedule,” said a tweet to Virgin Orbit’s account. “We are assessing that impact now. We will be ready to fly shortly, but the health of our team and their families continues to be at the forefront of our decisions.”


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