Skip to Content

Virgin Galactic is Using a Boeing 747 to Launch Rockets into Space

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson in front of a model of the repurposed Boeing 747 that will be used to launch the LauncherOne rocket.Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson in front of a model of the repurposed Boeing 747 that will be used to launch the LauncherOne rocket.
Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson in front of a model of the repurposed Boeing 747 that will be used to launch the LauncherOne rocket.Courtesy of Virgin Galactic

Richard Branson and his team of engineers at Virgin Galactic are repurposing a Boeing 747 to launch small satellites into space.

The commercial aircraft, nicknamed “Cosmic Girl,” is from Branson’s Virgin Atlantic fleet and will act as a mothership for future launches of LauncherOne satellites, flying them to high altitude before they blast into orbit.

“I never imagined that today one of our 747s would get a second chance and help open access to space,” said company founder Branson in a statement Thursday. The company also released a video showing how it plans to pull it off:

Virgin listed the qualities that made a 747 jetliner a great launchpad: the aircraft’s rocket carrying capacity, all-weather capabilities, and years of experience maintaining the Boeing aircraft. The carrier aircraft can also be deployed from any 747-friendly runway.

Virgin is among a list of companies looking for more cost-effective ways of breaking into the $6 billion commercial launch business. If successful, they could benefit from the expected growth of space payload launches in the next 20 years, which industry analysts at Teal Group estimate could be valued at $240 billion.

Blue Origin—the space company started by Amazon’s (AMZN) Jeff Bezos—scored a major win when it successfully launched and landed a reusable rocket last month.