SatRevolution, Virgin Orbit & Polish Universities Join to Launch CubeSat to Mars

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 performs its first captive carry of LauncherOne. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

KATOWICE, Poland, 9 October 2019 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Scientists and engineers from nearly a dozen Polish universities have teamed up with Poland-based satellite company SatRevolution and Sir Richard Branson’s small satellite launch company Virgin Orbit to establish a new consortium to design and carry out the world’s first dedicated commercial small satellite mission to Mars. The parties established the consortium at a formal signing ceremony during the Impact Mobility’ 19 rEVolution conference in Katowice, Poland.

The consortium will jointly develop the first in a series of up to three Mars missions, with the initial launch expected as early as three years from now.

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RAF Loans Pilot to Virgin Orbit for Satellite Launch Program

Mathew Stannard (Credit: RAF)

LONG BEACH, Calif. (RAF PR) — The Royal Air Force and Virgin Orbit have selected the RAF pilot to be seconded to the company’s ground-breaking small satellite launch programme.

The partnership between the RAF and Virgin Orbit was unveiled at the Air and Space Power conference in July. Following a tough selection process, Air Vice-Marshal Simon ‘Rocky’ Rochelle and Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart have announced that Flight Lieutenant Mathew ‘Stanny’ Stannard had been selected. 

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Virgin Orbit Ships First Flight-ready LauncherOne Booster to Mojave

The first flight-ready LauncherOne booster. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

Virgin Orbit has shipped its first flight-ready LauncherOne up the road from Long Beach, Calif. to the Mojave Air and Space Port, where it is undergoing a series of tests before being air launched from the Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 carrier aircraft on the program’s first flight test.

Our latest rocket — which has already been fully integrated, tested, checked, re-checked, analyzed, and triple-checked — is destined for a rigorous crucible of engineering demonstrations and tests of its own. The final demonstration for this rocket will also be the biggest test we’ve attempted as a team: during that test, we’ll fire up LauncherOne’s engine in flight and head for space for the first time.

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Our orbital test flight rocket is currently being installed into a newly built test stand in Mojave, where in the coming weeks we’ll run through a number of critical exercises, including loading and fueling with our mobile ground support equipment. We are prepping and practicing, making sure we know how to do everything we could conceivably ever need to do.  Then, it’s off to the skies — first for a captive carry flight, and then for the launch itself.

Opposition to Spaceport Cornwall Plan

It seems not everyone is on board with plans by UK governments to spend $25 million to create a spaceport in Cornwall for billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit launch company.

Cornwall Live reports Nichola Andersen has written to members of the Cornwall Council’s Cabinet to urge them to vote against a £12 million [$14.79 million] package for upgrades to Cornwall Airport Newquay to accommodate Virgin Orbit operations. The Cornwall Council will vote on the package in November.

She states that the council’s carbon emissions report is flawed and says that the cost of the spaceport should be with Sir Richard Branson and not Cornwall’s taxpayers.

“The report that the council has had is not a proper carbon audit – it has been calculated just on launches by Virgin Orbit, it has not taken into account all the other aspects, the testing by Virgin, the transport of their staff, the other launches.

Under the proposals Cornwall Council would provide £12m [$14.79 million] of funding for the spaceport with £7.5m [$9.68 million] coming from the UK Space Agency and £2.5m [$3.1 million] from Virgin Orbit.

Nichola said: “Richard Branson is the only beneficiary of this. Cornwall Council should be saying there are better things that we can spend this money on that will benefit people in Cornwall.

Virgin Orbit plans to use a Boeing 747 to air launch satellites using its LauncherOne rocket. Officials said the first flight test of the new booster is expected this fall.

Cornwall Council Cabinet to Vote on $14.8 Million for Spaceport

CORNWALL, UK ( Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership PR) — Business and space industry leaders are backing plans to create the UK’s first horizontal launch spaceport in Cornwall.

Spaceport Cornwall would use planes rather than vertical take-off rockets to put satellites into space from Cornwall Airport Newquay as early as next year, in partnership with California-based launch company Virgin Orbit.

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Lawrence Livermore Develops Innovative CubeSats

Engineers and scientists complete the installation of the laser heterodyne radiometer (LHR) into the MiniCarb cube satellite, or CubeSat. Clockwise from bottom left is Lance Simms from Lawrence Livermore and AJ DiGregorio, Guru Ramu, and Jenny Young from NASA. (Not pictured: Emily Wilson, Darrell Carter, and Vincent Riot.) (Credit: Randy Wong)

LIVERMORE, Calif. (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory PR) — The population of human-made satellites orbiting Earth has skyrocketed over the past 60 years. Launches nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017, and a significant contributor to this growth has been the development and implementation of small satellites that are easier and less expensive to build and more cost efficient to launch than conventional ones. Today, the hottest destination for these spacecraft is low-Earth orbit (LEO)—in the range of a few hundred kilometers above the planet’s surface.

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Virgin Orbit Announces Responsive Launch Campaign with Royal Air Force

Cosmic Girl performs first captive carry with LauncherOne. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

GLOUCESTERSHIRE, England, 19 July 2019 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit, Sir Richard Branson’s small satellite launch company, announced today that it has been selected by the U.K.’s Royal Air Force (RAF) to provide responsive launch capabilities for a small satellite constellation Operational Capability Demonstrator through a new RAF project named “ARTEMIS.”

First announced by Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt yesterday at the Air and Space Power Conference, the ultimate goal of ARTEMIS is to demonstrate the utility of small satellites and responsive launch to provide information to the RAF and allied personnel on operationally relevant timelines. Secretary Mordaunt confirmed that the department has already committed £30 million ($33.6 million) to fast-track the ARTEMIS program.

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Royal Air Force Plans to Loan Pilot to Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 performs its first captive carry of LauncherOne. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

UK Defence Minister Penny Mordaunt announced a plan on Thursday to loan a Royal Air Force test pilot to Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit, apparently so the aviator can earn astronaut wings with Virgin Galactic.

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UK Defence Minister Praises Virgin Orbit, Vows to Strengthen Space Capabilities

Penny Mordaunt (Credit: Ministry of Defence)

Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt Keynote Speech
Air and Space Power Conference 2019
July 18, 2019
Full Speech

Excerpts About Space

And we should be a leading player in space. It won’t just help strengthen our industries. It’ll also provide an incredible opportunity to capture the imagination of a new generation and encourage them to get involved in aerospace.

Fifty years on from the moon landings we’re seeing SpaceX and other private sector individuals and leaders coming into the sector and making use of the technology. From satellite launches to more ambitious projects. It’s no longer a matter of if, but when, the first humans will walk on Mars. And this year we might see the first routine tourist flights into space.

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Virgin Orbit Progressing Toward First LauncherOne Drop Test

LauncherOne attached to Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

LONG BEACH, Calif. (Virgin Orbit PR) — The LauncherOne test program is moving really quickly now in the run-up to our first orbital test flight, as we finalize integration of the test rocket (more on that below) and continue to bang out flight test after flight test. With three successful heavyweight flights now under our belt, we’re soaring higher than a moonsault off the top rope!

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For Sale: The World’s Largest Airplane*

Stratolaunch takes off. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

As we previously reported, Stratolaunch is up for sale. Paul Allen’s sister Jody Allen, the executor of her brother’s estate, has no interest in continuing the development of the giant airplane, which is designed to air launch rockets.

CNBC reports on the eye popping price tag:

Holding company Vulcan is seeking to sell Stratolaunch for $400 million, people familiar with the matter told CNBC. Vulcan is the investment conglomerate of late billionaire Paul Allen, a Microsoft co-founder. Allen died last October following complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The hefty price tag includes ownership of the airplane as well as the intellectual property and facilities.

Stratolaunch is the world’s largest airplane by wingspan, which stretches 385 feet — longer than an American football field. The plane is powered by six jet engines salvaged from Boeing 747 aircraft.

Allen’s vision of a massive plane that can launch rockets from the air was at least partially fulfilled in April, when Stratolaunch flew for the first time after about eight years in development. Based at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, the giant airplane flew for more than two hours before landing after what was deemed a successful first flight.

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Virgin Orbit Loses 35 OneWeb Launches, Sues Over Termination Fee

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 performs its first captive carry of LauncherOne. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

When the contract was announced in June 2015, it seemed like a blockbuster deal:  satellite Internet provider OneWeb had placed an order for 39 launches with options for 100 more for Virgin Galactic’s (now Virgin Orbit’s) LauncherOne.

What made the order extraordinary was not just the large number of launches, but the fact that the rocket really didn’t even exist yet. (The fact that Richard Branson’s Virgin Group was an investor in OneWeb probably helped.)

Four years later, the blockbuster deal is a bust. According to a lawsuit filed this week by Virgin Orbit, OneWeb last year canceled 35 of the 39 planned launches., slicing most of the value from the $234 million deal.

SpaceNews reports that Virgin Orbit orbit is suing for $46.32 million it claims OneWeb owes it from a $70 million contract termination fee.

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Virgin Orbit to Launch Satellites from Cornwall in England

Cosmic Girl performs first captive carry with LauncherOne. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

CORNWALL, United Kingdom (Virgin Orbit PR) — For a while now, we’ve been working with our friends in Cornwall on the prospect of using LauncherOne to bring launch back to Britain. Today, that project took a massive step forward, as the U.K. Space Agency announced it aims to invest £7.8m (~$10 million) into the development of Spaceport Cornwall as a key operating hub for horizontal launch system, working towards a first launch from British soil in the early 2020’s.

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Virgin Orbit, ANA Partner to Launch Small Satellites From Japan

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 performs its first captive carry of LauncherOne. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

TOKYO and LONG BEACH, Calif., 6 June 2019 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit, Sir Richard Branson’s small satellite launch company, announced today that it has signed an agreement with ANA Holdings (hereinafter “ANA HD”), parent company of All Nippon Airways (ANA), Japan’s largest airline, to bring the company’s LauncherOne service to Japan.

Subject to U.S. Government regulatory approvals, Virgin Orbit’s unique and responsive system — which uses a 747 widebody jet as a “flying launch pad” for its rocket — will complement existing Japanese ground launch vehicles, enabling near-term access to space by the private sector, helping to grow the country’s burgeoning small satellite ecosystem, and helping to elevate Japan as the premier space transport hub in Asia.

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Government Backs Ambitious Plans for UK in Space

  • Up to £20m could be made available from national and local government, subject to business case, for Spaceport Cornwall and Virgin Orbit as part of the Industrial Strategy spaceflight programme – LaunchUK
  • UK Space Agency to work with the United States to enhance space weather forecasting, with £7 million for UCL scientists to build key instruments
  • National Space Council to be established as part of upgrade to UK space strategy and governance.

LONDON (UKSA PR) — UK will play a leading role in the new space age, with new support for domestic satellite launch capability, space weather forecasting, and a National Space Council.

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