Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit reached space on Sunday after it successfully launched a rocket mid-air from beneath the wing of a modified Boeing 747-400.
The California-based company's LauncherOne rocket put 10 Nasa satellites in orbit during its second demonstration flight, marking an important milestone after the company failed in its first attempt last year.
"A new gateway to space has just sprung open," said Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit's chief executive.
“Even in the face of a global pandemic, we have maintained a laser focus on fully demonstrating every element of this revolutionary launch system. That effort paid off today with a beautifully executed mission.”
The modified Virgin Atlantic 747, which was named Cosmic Girl, took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port and flew out to a launch site over the Pacific Ocean, about 80km south of the Channel Islands.
The two-stage rocket then ignited its NewtonThree engine to make its first successful trip to space.
The small satellites put in orbit are called CubeSats and were designed, built and tested by universities across the US, including Brigham Young University, the University of Michigan and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette as part of a Nasa educational programme.
“Virgin Orbit has achieved something many thought impossible,” said Mr Branson, founder of the Virgin Group.
“This magnificent flight is the culmination of many years of hard work and will also unleash a whole new generation of innovators on the path to orbit.”
After the successful demonstration, Virgin Orbit will officially transition into a commercial service for its next mission, the company said.
It said it has launches booked by the US Space Force, the UK’s Royal Air Force and commercial customers such as Swarm Technologies, Italy’s Sitael and Denmark’s GomSpace.