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Virgin Orbit gives its flying launch pad a trial run

Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl
Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl carrier airplane taxis down a runway at Victorville Airport in California with a LauncherOne rocket slung under one of its wings. (Virgin Orbit via Twitter)

British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit space venture notched another milestone over the Veterans Day weekend: the first high-speed taxi test of its modified Boeing 747 mothership with a LauncherOne rocket tucked beneath its wing.

In a tweet posted today, Virgin Orbit said the Nov. 11 ground test revved up the plane, nicknamed Cosmic Girl, to a speed beyond 110 knots (125 mph) on a runway in Victorville, Calif. That’s fast enough to simulate an aborted takeoff.

“We also used the day as an opportunity to load real flight software onto LauncherOne for the first time,” the company said.

Branson signaled his approval in a follow-up tweet. “Congratulations to all the team on more exciting progress,” he wrote.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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