March 17, 2016

‘Cosmic Girl’ 747 Modifications Underway

Virgin Galactic's Cosmic Girl, a 747-400, arrives at L-3's facilities for modification. Cosmic Girl will serve as a 'flying launch pad' for Virgin Galactic's LauncherOne small satellite launch service.

In December, we announced that we are now the proud owners of a 747-400, a part of our growing fleet of air and space vehicles. This beautiful airplane, coincidentally nicknamed Cosmic Girl, will serve as the dedicated carrier aircraft for our small satellite launch service, LauncherOne. Beginning well before that announcement, we’d begun the hard work of getting Cosmic Girl ready for service. Today, we’re happy to share an update on our favorite 747.

Preparations for Cosmic Girl fall into two major categories. First up, the aircraft was put through something called a “D check,” also known as a heavy maintenance visit. D checks are routine maintenance inspections that happen every several years for commercial airliners, to supplement more frequent, less intense inspections called the A, B, and C checks (with each successive letter getting more intense and less frequent). In the words of the FAA, D checks are “extremely comprehensive, involving major disassembly, removal, overhaul, and inspection of systems and components. They might occur only three to six times during the service life of an aircraft.” When we purchased Cosmic Girl, she was due for her second ever D check. We are happy to report that she has successfully passed that D check with flying colors (pardon the pun)!

Next up comes the process of modifying Cosmic Girl to be custom-suited for the job of carrying the LauncherOne rocket on the first step of its journey to space. Already, we’ve spent most of a year doing the underlying engineering work needed to prepare to modify Cosmic Girl not only to carry the rocket under its wing but also to serve as a ‘flying launch site,’ such as making updates to the power and communications routings throughout the aircraft. Thankfully, because 747s have long been used to ferry extra jet engines, there was already a great deal of engineering and operational know-how to leverage.

Now, with months of work already completed, Cosmic Girl has arrived at our partner L-3’s facilities and begun the modification process. The team at L-3 have a great amount of expertise working with 747s, and we’re excited to work with them over the coming months.

This work will happen in parallel to all of the exciting developments happening at our bustling rocket factory in Long Beach, California, where our dedicated 170-person team are hard at work testing rocket engines, composite tanks, avionics, and all of the other critical systems that help LauncherOne get to space. You can read our founder’s thoughts about his recent tour of that Long Beach factory here.

A collage of photos from Richard and Eve Branson's visit to Virgin Galactic's LauncherOne rocket factory in Long Beach, California, on February 18, 2016.

Please stay tuned to this site as well as our social media channels (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn) for more updates about Cosmic Girl and LauncherOne, as well as our human spaceflight program.