Virgin Orbit is almost ready air-launch satellites.
The Virgin Galactic sister company performed its first-ever drop test today (July 10), releasing a LauncherOne rocket from its Boeing 747 carrier plane over California's Mojave Desert.
"Now THAT's what I call a drop test! Video from today's very successful drop test of our #LauncherOne small satellite launch vehicle. More photos and videos coming soon," Virgin Orbit representatives wrote on Twitter today.
Related: Gallery: Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne Rocket for Satellite Missions
During operational flights, the 70-foot-long (21 meters) rocket will fire up after the drop and then carry its payload to orbit. But that didn't happen today; the booster simply free-fell to the desert floor, where it presumably made a pretty big hole.
Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket falls away from its carrier plane during the company's first -ever drop test on July 1
(Image credit: Virgin Orbit via Twitter)  "We'll be monitoring and rehearsing a million things, but this test is really all about those seconds just after release, as we ensure the rocket and aircraft separate cleanly and observe how the rocket free-falls through the air," company representatives wrote in a blog post yesterday (July 9)
Virgin Orbit, part of billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Group, has notched a number of milestones with LauncherOne and the carrier plane, known as Cosmic Girl , over the past yea r. The company first affixed the rocket to the plane last October, then the duo together for the first time a month later. A number of additional such "captive-carry" flights followed over the ensuing months, leading up to today's drop test.
Cosmic Girl lifted off from the Mojave Air and Space Port today at 11:43 am EDT (1543 GMT; 8:43 am local California time). The plane dropped LauncherOne 30 minutes later, at an altitude of 35,000 feet (10,700 m), Virgin Orbit representatives said.
"The whole flight went incredibly well. The release was extremely smooth, and the rocket fell away nicely," Virgin Orbit Chief Test Pilot Kelly Latimer, who piloted today's flight, said in a statement.
"There was a small roll with the aircraft, just as we expected," Latimer added. "Everything matched what we saw in the simulators well – in fact, the release dynamics and the aircraft handling qualities were better than we expected. "
The first orbital flight of LauncherOne is the next big box to check. Virgin Orbit is not as fast as possible, but it will probably be relatively soon. The rocket that will fly that mission has already undergone extensive testing, company representatives said. "Virgin Orbit wrote in yesterday's blog post. "After that, our LaunchOps crew will run through the checks and rehearsals any serious rocket company does in the lead-up to a flight."
(500 kilograms) to a variety of destinations in low Earth orbit. Cosmic Girl will carry the rocket up to about 35,000 feet (10,700 m), at which point the booster will separate and make its own way to space. The plane, of course, will come back down to Earth for a runway landing.
Virgin Galactic employs as well: A plane known as WhiteKnightTwo hauls the company's six-passenger SpaceShipTwo aloft, and the space plane's onboard rocket engine takes the craft up to suborbital space. 19659002] The newest SpaceShipTwo, known as VSS Unity, has already flown to suborbital space and should be ready to carry paying passengers soon,
Editor's note : This story was updated at 5 pm EDT with details of the test flight and a quote from Kelly Latimer Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, " Out There " (Grand Central Publishing, 2018 ; illustrated by Karl Tate ), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall . Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook .