LauncherOne is Virgin Orbit’s two-stage launch vehicle for delivering small satellites into low earth orbit. To reduce costs and increase launch location flexibility, LauncherOne is designed to be air-dropped from a 747-400 carrier aircraft in flight. Each mission will entail several crucial separation events, including the separation of LauncherOne from its carrier aircraft, the first stage from the second, the fairing from the second, and the satellite payload from the second.
To ensure adequate clearance between separating structures, engineers at Virgin Orbit used Simulink® and Simscape Multibody™ to model and simulate LauncherOne separation events. In addition to minimizing the risk of collisions, the simulation results are used to inform design decisions for the spacecraft structural components and separation mechanisms.
“We considered several modeling and simulation options, including open-source libraries and costly commercial software packages,” says Patrick Harvey, associate engineer at Virgin Orbit. “Simulink and Simscape Multibody provide the best of both options: the flexibility of open source—without the steep learning curve—and the confidence and time-savings advantages of commercial solutions—without the high cost.”