Ferrari Club Visits Virgin Orbit's Rocket Factory
While Ferraris are known to be fast, escape velocity is still beyond their grasp. You’ll need a rocket to achieve that.
Jim Bindman, Ferrari Club of America’s Southwest region vice president and events chairman, does his job with an enthusiasm and passion. A few months ago, the club went to Vandenberg Air Force Base to witness a rocket launch. After a month passed, they joined in the celebration of the Air Force’s 70th birthday with a car show held at Edwards Air Force Base, with Gen. Chuck Yeager as one of the prominent persons who attended. Now, the club met at Virgin Orbit in Long Beach, California, holding a fundraiser for the Navy Seal Honor Foundation in the form of a car show.
With Virgin Orbit, a company teeming with innovative rocket launch specialists fueled by grand aspirations, as the destination, it just got to a whole new level.
“If we were a minivan club, I don’t think they’d have us here,” Bindman stated as they were outside the tall building.
As a clarification, this place is different from Virgin Galactic. Galactic jettisons people into outer space via a cool rocket plane. Virgin Orbit, on the other hand, focuses on satellite positioning and sending them to space.
“Space projects are expensive,” Virgin Orbit VP of special projects Will Pomerantz explained. “Our mission is to take the awesomeness of space and remove the barriers to it.”
Space exploration used to warrant a huge portion of the GDP from only a few of really illustrious, relatively rich nations. In the previous year, Pomerantz said there were 90 recorded flights into outer space. There were 86 a year before that. It’s still pretty costly.
“Raise your hand if you own your own satellite,” Pomerantz stated.
Democratizing space is now become the topic for companies like Virgin Orbit. It would take $12 million to $15 million if you wanted to own one Virgin Orbit LauncherOne rocket. But if you shared it with others, then the expense would be a lot less.
Basically, cutting the size of a satellite means cutting the expenses in sending it to space as well. Satellites as big as 18-wheelers cost millions to build, but those as big as a can of Coke costs only $10,000.
“We can launch hundreds of Coke-can-sized satellites,” he explained.
“I would love to see Long Beach High School launch a satellite,” Pomerantz mentioned. “When we put satellites in the hands of normal people you’re going to see lots of crazy ideas, some good, some bad.”
Virgin Orbit plans to make it as inexpensive as possible by cutting the space travel by the first 35,000 feet. The LauncherOne rocket is then hoisted under the 747-400’s left wing, which ferries spare jet engines. Obtaining a spare 747 was not difficult, given the fact they are sister companies with Virgin Airlines.
Launching at 35,000 feet via airplane has plenty of benefits. With less friction at that level of the atmosphere, sending it to outer space becomes easier. Because of that, you’re able to save up on all that rocket fuel needed to lift off from the ground.
The rocket is also something that Virgin Orbit wants to make as inexpensive as possible. The goal is to fashion it as a two-stage LOX/RP-1 rocket. The LOX represents liquid oxygen while the RP-1 is somewhat kerosene of some sorts. When they are combined perfectly together through “turbo pumps,” LauncherOne’s single main stage will be able to create thrust of 75,000 pounds.
“Rocket science is just plumbing,” Pomerantz jested. He aims to make this rather intimidating concept easier to grasp.