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Virgin Galactic plans to launch satellites from jumbo jet

Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson plans to shoot satellites up into space from a Boeing 747 jumbo jet. On Thursday, Branson unveiled plans for an aircraft that will serve as an airborne launch pad, according to a blog post from Branson on Virgin's website. The plane, nicknamed Cosmic Girl, previously flew for Branson's Virgin Atlantic airline.

The main goal of the project is to send the company's LauncherOne rockets into Earth's orbit. Virgin currently has several deals in the relatively new small commercial satellite market, to launch devices that could be used to bring Web access to more people worldwide. This proposed rocket system could also be utilized by NASA.

How would it work? The rocket will sit underneath the jet's wing before being deployed as the 747 is traveling at 5oo miles per hour. About 10 minutes after release, the rocket will each orbit, hitting a speed of 1,700 miles per hour.

"The accomplished and reliable 747 'jumbo jet' has a proven record of supporting space missions, first through the Space Shuttle Enterprise test flight program and as NASA's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft," Branson wrote. "Virgin Galactic's LauncherOne team talked me through the multitude of benefits using Cosmic Girl will bring to the program."