Virgin Orbit to Expands Fleet with 2 More Boeing 747s

L3Harris modified Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl airborne launch pad at its Waco, Texas aircraft modification center. (Credit: L3Harris Technologies)

Highlights:

  • Virgin Orbit signs agreement to secure two new airframes to meet U.S. national security and its allies’ launch demands
  • L3Harris will modify one aircraft, aims to deliver Virgin Orbit’s second airborne launcher by 2023
  • New cargo configuration expected to enable foreign spaceport launch and transport of rockets, support equipment

LONG BEACH, Calif. and MELBOURNE, Fla., May 10, 2022 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit (Nasdaq: VORB), a leading satellite launch company, has signed an agreement with L3Harris Technologies (NYSE:LHX) to acquire two Boeing 747-400 airframes to support the growing need for U.S. national security and allies’ satellite launch demands.  

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Virgin Orbit Announces Renaming of Its National Security Arm and Introduction of New Board Members

LauncherOne ignites after being dropped from Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

LONG BEACH, Calif. (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit (Nasdaq: VORB), a leading satellite launch provider, announced today the renaming of its national security arm. Formerly “VOX Space,” Virgin Orbit’s U.S.-based, wholly owned subsidiary engaged with national security organizations in the U.S. and its allies will now do so under the name “Virgin Orbit National Systems.”

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Report: UAE Working with Blue Origin to Establish Spaceport, Ends Agreement with Virgin Galactic

New Shepard takes off with six passengers on Dec. 11, 2021. (Credit: Blue Origin website)

At the end of a long article about the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) efforts to develop a virbrant space industry, The National revealed this bit of news from Ibrahim Al Qasim, deputy director general of the UAE Space Agency.

Mr Al Qasim revealed to The National that the agreement that was signed in 2019 with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic to bring space tourism flights to Al Ain Airport is no longer in effect, without explaining further.

Instead, the country is now working with Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin to set up spaceports.

He said discussions with the company, which has already flown 20 people on its suborbital flights, are under way.

Any agreement to fly Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle would be dependent upon a technology safeguards agreement between the UAE and the United States. An agreement with New Zealand allows Rocket Lab to launch Electron rockets from the company’s spaceport on Mahia Peninsula. Brazil has signed an agreement that will allow U.S. companies to launch from the Alcantara Space Center.

The UAE state of Abu Dhabi has been a major investor in Virgin Galactic, which plans to fly suborbital tourism flights aboard SpaceShipTwo. In 2009, Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund Aabar Investments put in $280 million for a 31.7 percent share of Richard Branson’s space company. Aabar later invested an additional $100 million for a 38.7 percent share of Virgin Galactic.

The additional $100 million investment was intended to help finance the development of a small satellite booster that would be air launched from WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft when it wasn’t used for SpaceShipTwo suborbital flights. A new company, Virgin Orbit, split off from Virgin Galactic. The company dumped plans to use WhiteKnightTwo; instead, it uses a larger booster, LauncherOne, that is dropped from a modified Boeing 747 named Cosmic Girl.

Virgin Galactic Appoints Pilot Kelly Latimer to Director of Flight Test

Kelly Latimer

TUSTIN, Calif. (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (the “Company” or “Virgin Galactic”), an aerospace and space travel company, today announced that veteran pilot and retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Kelly Latimer has been promoted to Director of Flight Test.

Latimer joined Virgin Galactic in 2015 as its first female test pilot. She currently serves as a pilot for the mothership, VMS Eve, and was pilot in command for the Unity 21 mission and second in command for the historic Unity 22 mission. She will continue to serve as a Virgin Galactic pilot and will fly the Company’s spaceships on future test and commercial missions.

In her new role, Latimer will oversee the entirety of the Company’s flight test program including design, planning, execution, and post-flight analysis. This includes leading the flight test engineering team and managing mission control engineers who gather and analyze flight data to validate the safety and performance of the spaceflight system. Latimer will supervise the completion of the flight test program for Virgin Galactic’s current fleet, which is scheduled to resume later this year, and will work in parallel on the development of the Company’s new motherships and Delta class spaceships.

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New Mexico Seeks to Attract Virgin Galactic’s Manufacturing Facility to Spaceport America

A majority of Virgin Galactic’s future Astronauts gather with Sir Richard Branson (center) for a group photo at Virgin Galactic FAITH hangar in Mojave, CA September 25, 2013. Behind the group is the WhiteKnightTwo mated with SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Updated on March 5 at 8:34 a.m. PST with additional information about space companies located in the Los Angeles area and the benefits of industry clusters to employers and employees.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The state of New Mexico has proposed that Virgin Galactic establish a production facility at Spaceport America, which is where the company plans to begin flying tourists on suborbital space rides later this year. KRQE TV reports:

The New Mexico Economic Development Department says they have a proposal to bring Virgin Galactic’s manufacturing to the Spaceport. Right now, the manufacturing location is in the Mojave desert. Spaceport America has five permanent tenants that are conducting a variety of experiments; including one company that uses laser technology to help land on the moon.

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Virgin Orbit Adds Distinguished Spaceflight Engineering Executive Amid Operations Scale Up

LONG BEACH, Calif., JANUARY 28, 2022 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Leading US-based space launch and space services company Virgin Orbit (Nasdaq: VORB) announced today the addition of industry leader Dr. Candace Givens as its new Vice President of Engineering. Dr. Givens joins the Virgin Orbit team as the company scales up its flight rate to accommodate high demand seen from commercial customers, the national security community, the international community, and NASA.

Dr. Givens joins a team that has uniquely demonstrated the ability to bring new technology to spaceflight and move it into regular launch operations—Having now completed their third commercial spaceflight and having deployed 26 satellites during the first 12 months of operations. In her role as Vice President of Engineering Dr. Givens will work closely with Virgin Orbit chief engineer and senior vice president of technology Kevin Sagis who has been instrumental in developing, proving and establishing the air-launched LauncherOne System. 

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NASA Selects Virgin Orbit to Provide Future Launch Services Through VADR Contract

LONG BEACH, Calif., January 27, 2022 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit (Nasdaq: VORB) announced today its selection by NASA’s Launch Services Program to provide launch services for the agency’s Venture-Class Acquisition of Dedicated Rideshare (VADR) missions. The fixed-price indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract will leverage commercial satellite launch practices, and together with the flexibility afforded by Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system enables more efficient launch timelines, mission-tailored orbits, and competitive costs.

“This contract award is a great step forward for commercial space,” said Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit. “The VADR contract vehicle now provides a platform for NASA to more easily contract for flights on our LauncherOne service. That means it will be easier than ever for us to work with NASA to provide targeted and economic access to space, maximizing the science gains from their small satellite missions and enabling ever greater technological innovation.”

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Sultanate of Oman and Virgin Orbit Announce International Consortium on Country’s First Mission to Deep Space

  • Oman selects innovative space companies Virgin Orbit, SatRevolution, TUATARA and ETCO as mission partners to launch the sultanate’s first satellites to Low Earth Orbit
  • The first satellite is scheduled to launch from the UK’s spaceport Cornwall in 2022
  • The Oman mission to deep space will be targeted for launch as early as Q3 2024

MUSCAT, Oman (Virgin Orbit PR) — The Sultanate of Oman, leading US-based launch company Virgin Orbit, Polish Small Satellite manufacturer and operator SatRevolution, Poland-originated AI data analytics specialists TUATARA, and Omani-based emerging technology innovator ETCO, have together signed a Memorandum of Understanding for collaboration on Oman’s first mission to deep space. The same agreement also lays the foundation for the consortium to collaborate on delivering additional small satellites to Low Earth Orbit, including the first in Oman’s history.

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Virgin Orbit Launches 7 Payloads into Orbit

Cosmic Girl after takeoff from the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

MOJAVE, CALIFORNIA, January 13, 2022 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit (Nasdaq: VORB), the responsive launch and space solutions company, confirmed it successfully deployed into orbit all 7 customer satellites onboard its LauncherOne rocket during today’s Above the Clouds mission.

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Virgin Orbit Delays Launch to Thursday

LauncherOne ignites after being dropped from Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

Virgin Orbit has postponed a satellite launch scheduled for Wednesday by 24 hours so engineers could take “a little extra time to thoroughly validate the system and to check our sensor readings.

“We are now targeting Thursday, Jan 13 as our first available launch opportunity, with potential takeoff between ~1pm & 3:30pm Pacific. We have additional windows available in the coming days, if needed,” the company tweeted.

“The launch system, the team, and our customers’ satellites remain in excellent shape as we prepare for the start of our latest mission. Set your alarms and be sure to tune into our mission livestream on Thursday, which kicks off at 12:30pm PT/20:30 GMT,” Virgin Orbit added.

LauncherOne will place seven satellites into orbit after being dropped from its Boeing 747 Cosmic Girl carrier aircraft off the coast of California. The flight will originate from the Mojave Air and Space Port.

Virgin Orbit to Launch Satellites From California on Wednesday

LauncherOne ignites after being dropped from Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit will attempt to make it three in a row by launching a group of commercial and government satellites off the California coast on Wednesday afternoon.

Virgin Orbit’s Boeing 747 Cosmic Girl carrier plane is scheduled to take off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California between 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. PST (21:00–23:30 GMT). The aircraft will drop the LauncherOne booster over the Pacific Ocean near the Channel Islands approximately one hour after takeoff.

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Merger Leaves Virgin Orbit with Less Than Half of Funding Originally Planned

Virgin Orbit Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 takes off from the Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In a clear sign of investor skepticism, Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit will receive only about $228 million of the $483 million in growth capital it expected after merging with the NextGen Acquisition II special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).

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Virgin Orbit Delays Next Launch Until After Merger Vote

LauncherOne ignites after being dropped from Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Orbit has delayed its next satellite launch, originally set for Wednesday, Dec. 22, to next month. The launch will come after shareholders of NextGen Acquisition Corp. II vote on Dec. 28 on whether to merge with Richard Branson’s launch services provider.

The merger with the special purpose acquisition company would allow Virgin Orbit to go public on Nasdaq under its own name. The deal will provide $483 million in capital to allow the company to grow.

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Virgin Orbit to Launch Again by End of Year

LauncherOne (Credit: Mojave)

MOJAVE, Calif. (Virgin Orbit PR) — Coming off flawless back-to-back launches, the Virgin Orbit team has settled into a steady flight preparation rhythm with LauncherOne. [Earlier today], the fully assembled rocket that will carry our next customers’ satellites to space has left our rocket factory in Long Beach and headed up to the bare concrete pad at the Mojave Air and Space Port that serves as all the spaceport we need. Already, the rocket has been mated to the customized 747 that serves as our flying launch pad, mobile mission control, and fully re-usable first stage all at once.

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Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl Jetliner Prepares for Satellite Launch

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 flight. (Credit: Flight Aware)

Virgin Orbit’s Boeing 747 Cosmic Girl rehearsed an upcoming satellite launch over the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday evening. The 3 hour plus flight originating and ending at the Mojave Air and Space Port involved flying what is called the race track near the Channel Islands off the Southern California coast.

Last month, Cosmic Girl was practicing nighttime touch-and-goes on Runway 12-30 at the spaceport. That indicates Virgin Orbit is gearing up for the first night launch of its LauncherOne satellite booster.

LauncherOne will launch the STP-27VPB mission for the U.S. Defense Innovation Unit (DIU). The rocket will also launch the PAN A and PAN B spacecraft, which are part of NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program.

The flight will be called Tubular Bells, Part 2 after a popular instrumental song of that name produced by Virgin Records. Tubular Bells, Part 1 was the name of the LauncherOne flight that orbited the STP-27VPA mission in June 2021.

Virgin Orbit successfully launched 10 microsatellites for NASA’s ELaNa program in January. It was the first successful flight of LauncherOne, which failed on its maiden launch in June 2020.