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Virgin Orbit, the sister company of Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson’s space company, is halting an attempted rocket launch because many of its employees were at risk of COVID-19 exposure, the company said.

The Los Angeles-based startup, which hopes to put satellites into orbit via a rocket launched from under the wing of a 747 aircraft, said in a series of tweets that as infection rates “skyrocket” in In the area, Virgin Orbit’s contact tracing has put so many employees in “precautionary quarantines” that the company does not have enough staff to support an upcoming test flight of its LauncherOne rocket.

The company said it has followed security protocols at its facilities. Virgin Orbit said “some” of its team members tested positive, although none of the cases had been passed between employees.

A Virgin Orbit Boeing 747-400 airplane named Cosmic Girl taking off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in the desert north of Los Angeles. (AP Photo / Matt Hartman)

The infection rate in Los Angeles County, as in many localities in the United States, has increased significantly since Thanksgiving.

Although the first vaccines are being issued to healthcare workers, healthy adults under 65 and children may have to wait until 2021 before vaccines are available.

Virgin Orbit, like other space technology companies in the United States, may continue its operations during the pandemic because the government considered the space sector part of the country’s “critical infrastructure” in March.

As one industry group argued, the industry’s business activity is also intertwined with crucial US national security projects and NASA programs.

Virgin Orbit’s planned test launch was to be the company’s second attempt to put its LauncherOne rocket into Earth’s orbit.

An earlier test launch in May was interrupted when the rocket’s engine shut down shortly after it separated from its mothership, a Boeing 747 jet dubbed the Cosmic Girl. The rocket was allowed to plummet into the Pacific Ocean.

Over the past few months, Virgin Orbit said it conducted several ground tests, one of which involved sending a LauncherOne rocket to rural Mojave, California, where its sister company, the Virgin Galactic space tourism company, also has facilities, and mount it in a test. support intended to emulate the wing of Cosmic Girl.

Coronavirus cases have increased in Los Angeles, especially since Thanksgiving weekend. (AP Photo / Jae C. Hong, file)

The engineers then fueled the rocket and executed all the steps the rocket would take during an actual test flight, and the company called it a “great success.”

Virgin Orbit parted ways with Virgin Galactic, which focuses on sending tourists on suborbital flights that reach about 50 miles high, in 2017.

Virgin Orbit then said it was aiming to conduct a second test launch before the end of the year, and that a Federal Aviation Administration-certified launch was scheduled for this weekend.

But the company said that after finishing a contact tracing effort last Friday, it decided to stop a final refueling test of its rocket midway through that operation so that managers could make a “clear assessment before moving forward.” .

“Given the timelines associated with accurate COVID-19 test results, this will affect our launch schedule,” according to a tweet posted on Virgin Orbit’s account.

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“We are evaluating that impact now. We will be ready to fly soon, but the health of our team and their families remains at the forefront of our decisions.”

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