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Virgin Orbit signs deal to launch from Brazil

Capitalism in space: Virgin Orbit yesterday announced that it has signed an agreement with the Brazil Space Agency (AEB) to establish facilities and conduct launches from that nation’s long unused Alcântara spaceport.

The license is granted to Virgin Orbit Brasil Ltda. (VOBRA), a newly formed and wholly owned Brazilian subsidiary dedicated to bringing the LauncherOne air-launch rocket system to the Alcântara Launch Center (Centro de Lançamento de Alcântara, CLA).

The formation of the VOBRA entity for dedicated Brazilian space activities is designed to bring an important new capability to the country and economic value to the region. Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system, which uses a customized 747 aircraft, Cosmic Girl, as its flying and fully reusable launch pad, will conduct launches from the existing airbase at the Brazilian site, flying hundreds of miles before releasing the rocket directly above the equator — a global sweet spot — or at other optimal locations identified for each individual mission.

Being able to launch smallsats from the equator gives Virgin Orbit the ability to place those satellites in any orbit around the Earth for far less fuel, an advantage not available to spaceports at higher latitudes.

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From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

 
Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
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4 comments

  • BtB’s Original Mark

    “Brazil is the country of the future… and always will be,” observed Charles de Gaulle about Latin America’s largest economy. That statement epitomizes the Economic & Political Roller Coaster that is Brazil.
    I am rooting for Brazil and I hope that it has a successful future in Space.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “Being able to launch smallsats from the equator gives Virgin Orbit the ability to place those satellites in any orbit around the Earth for far less fuel, an advantage not available to spaceports at higher latitudes.

    This is a common misconception. The ideal launch point for any orbital inclination is the latitude that corresponds to that inclination. KSC is ideal for launching into a 28.5˚ inclination orbit. The “throw” at the equator begins to be offset by the need to spend propellant to go northward. Eventually, a 90˚ polar orbit would have to counter the speed of the equatorial “throw” that had seemed to be an advantage.

    If I were only allowed one launch site on Earth, then I would choose the equator, because the difference is not terribly great, only a delta-v of around 300 miles per hour more from the equator to a 60˚ orbit than launching from 60˚ latitude (less than 2% difference), but there is definitely an advantage to launching from the right latitude. However, it is better to distribute them similar to how we have them now: Equator (e.g. Kourou, French Guiana, KSC, and Russia’s northern (almost 60˚) sites. Farther from the equator gives nice entry points to sun synchronous orbits, which are slightly retrograde (greater than 90˚), which is why these orbits are the focus of discussion for the New Zealand site, the Scottish sites, and the Alaskan site. The Equator is nice, as many payloads in the past have been destined for geostationary orbit, directly above the equator, giving an advantage to Arianespace and its Ariane rocket family.

    Virgin Orbit’s advantage is that it can fly to any (or almost any) latitude so that its airplane-launched rocket can launch from the most advantageous place. This is an advantage not available to fixed-location spaceports.

    On the other hand, launching from a higher latitude to a geostationary orbit can be very costly in delta-v, as an orbital plane change is needed. That delta-v can be a couple of thousand miles per hour, whereas an equatorial launch requires no plane change and no delta-v propellant expenditure.

    To paraphrase Sir Walter Scott(?): Oh! What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice orbital mechanics.

    Original Mark is correct, there is nothing to stop South American countries from having strong economies. A century ago, Argentina was in competition with America for economic dominance in the Western Hemisphere. Then Argentina elected a dictator, and that competition was over.

    Oh, wait! I’m wrong. There is something that can stop Western Hemisphere countries from having strong economies.

  • Edward: Per discussion of launch points; thanks!

  • Concerned

    Unless this Virginal Orbit outfit snags some Brazilian military satellite launches, this will be a non-starter. There are already far cheaper launch alternatives for commercial smallsats, and only military applications require the kind of dedicated capability this expensive, outdated airlaunch system provides.

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