Virgin Orbit acquires additional B747-400s
Virgin Orbit has signed an agreement with L3 Harris Technologies to acquire two additional B747-400s to "support the growing need for US national and allies' sattelite launch demands". The two airframes involved are the two former Japan Air Self Defence Force (JASDF) B747-400s, which are currently registered to the Bank of Utah as N7474C (24730, former 20-1101) and N7477C (24731, former 20-1102). Both have been stored at Marana (AZ) since July 2019.
One of the duo will be modified by L3 Harris Technologies to act as a second airborne launch platform. Delivery to Virgin Orbit is expected to be done next year. The second aircraft is most likely to act as a parts donor. Which airframe will be converted is currently unknown.
Virgin Orbit was founded in 2017 and is using Boeing B747-400 N744VG (32745), named Cosmic Girl. The company has developed a rocket, called LauncherOne, which is brought to a very high altitude and then launched into the upper atmosphere with the goal to deliver small sattelites into a sun-synchronous orbit. The first succesful launch of a LauncherOne occured on 17 January 2021, deploying ten NASA CubeSats.
Photo by Virgin Orbit.