Tag Archives: Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit performs more flight tests of 747

Capitalism in space: Virgin Orbit has completed a series of flight tests of the 747 airplane that will be used to launch its LauncherOne smallsat rocket.

The flights of the company’s Boeing 747 aircraft, nicknamed “Cosmic Girl,” were the first since the company installed a pylon on the plane’s left wing that will be used to carry the LauncherOne rocket on future flights of the air-launch system.

The company disclosed few details about the test flights, but flight tracking services such as Flightradar24 list three flights of the aircraft in recent days, most recently Aug. 27, taking off from the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville, California. The flights ranged in duration from one and a half to three and a half hours in airspace over the Mojave Desert and over the Pacific Ocean off the California coast.

The company appears to be making progress, though its also appears that their promised first rocket flights are not happening this summer, as previously announced.

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Virgin Orbit gets first launch license

Capitalism in space: Virgin Orbit has obtained its first launch license from the FAA.

They hope to fly this first orbital flight before the end of the summer. Previously they have announced launch contracts calling for commercial launches in 2019, which requires these test flights in 2018.

Either way, it appears that, as I predicted in 2016, Virgin Orbit will achieve its first operational flight ahead of Virgin Galactic, even though the latter has been in development more than twice as long.

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Virgin Orbit gets another smallsat launch contract

Capitalism in space: Virgin Orbit has signed another launch contract, this time to launch nanosats for a company that provides services to the airline industry.

The flight, which is bound for a low-inclination orbit, is scheduled to occur in early 2019. GomSpace will use the launch to further build out a constellation of small satellites that will use Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) and Automatic Identification System (AIS) signal monitoring to track civilian aircraft and ocean-going vessels. This satellite constellation will provide continuous monitoring between 37 degrees North and 37 degrees South, helping provide global situational awareness for air-traffic controllers and shipping companies, and aiding in the identification and location of wayward or missing planes and ships.

The satellites slated for flight on LauncherOne are based closely on the flight-proven hardware used in the successful GOMX-1 and GOMX-3 missions, and will be designed, manufactured, and commissioned by GomSpace. The constellation will be operated by GomSpace’s Mauritius-based customer, Aerial & Maritime Ltd., once in orbit.

This appears to be the fifth launch contract that Virgin Orbit has signed, all with different companies. The recent stories have all suggested commercial launches will begin in 2019. I wonder, considering the company has yet to test fly LauncherOne, its rocket, even once.

There could be many reasons the company is getting so many contracts at this time. They could be offering great deals, with no commitment. They could be farther along in testing than the public knows. They could be fooling the satellite companies (though I doubt this because of the number of companies now signed on). Their other partners, some quite large and powerful, might be exercising clout to get these small smallsat companies to announce a launch contract in order to improve Virgin Orbit’s footprint in the market.

Regardless, we shall find out soon. To start commercial operations by early 2019 they must do some initial flight tests of LauncherOne this year. Time is running out for them to meet this schedule.

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Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne wins Defense launch contract

Capitalism in space: Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne has won a contract to launch a Defense Department payload.

The details are vague, but the deal appears real. The article also suggests that Virgin Orbit is on schedule to complete its first launch next year.

Its carrier aircraft, a Boeing 747 that was formerly a passenger airliner for Virgin Atlantic, is currently in flight tests after undergoing modifications to accommodate the launch vehicle. A pathfinder version the rocket, meanwhile, has been shipped from the company’s factory in Long Beach, California to Mojave for testing, including static fire tests of both stages.

All evidence now suggests that my prediction one year ago that this Virgin company will make its first operational flight before Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, despite being in development only six years, compared to the fourteen years SpaceShipTwo has been under development.

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Saudi Arabia to invest $1 billion in Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit

Capitalism in space: Saudi Arabia and Virgin have signed a non-binding agreement for Saudi Arabia to invest $1 billion in Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit.

I’m not sure what to make of this press release. The agreement is clearly called “non-binding,” which means Saudi Arabia is not obliged to provide any funds. At the same time, the deal appears to shift power and control of the two Virgin companies to the Arab country, which if successful (a big “if”) would also quickly give Saudi Arabia both a manned and smallsat launching capability.

Why they chose Virgin appears at first baffling, considering that company’s repeated inability to achieve any of its promises. It could be, however, that Richard Branson’s funds are drying up, and that he needed this deal to keep both companies afloat. Saudi Arabia thus saw an opportunity and grabbed it.

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Virgin Orbit wins launch contract

Capitalism in space: Virgin Orbit today announced it has signed a contract with Cloud Constellation to launch the first dozen satellites in their SpaceBelt constellation.

The initial deployment of the SpaceBelt network will be powered by a dozen ~400 kilogram satellites placed into low inclination orbits. Taking full advantage of LauncherOne as a dedicated launch service for small satellites and as a uniquely flexible service enabled by air-launch, the SpaceBelt constellation will be deployed using single-manifested launches occurring in rapid sequence. The initial launch is expected to occur as early as 2019.

This definitely puts pressure on Virgin Orbit to produce its first launches as promised.

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Virgin Orbit gets another launch contract

Capitalism in space: Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket has gained another launch contract, this time from an Italian smallsat company.

Italian small satellite builder Sitael has signed Virgin Orbit to send a technology demonstration satellite into low-Earth orbit next year. Sitael’s µHETsat, a demonstrator for a new electric propulsion system built with the European and Italian space agencies, will fly on LauncherOne “mid-next year,” Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit Chief Executive, told SpaceNews Aug. 11.

Virgin Orbit is preparing to begin commercial services with LauncherOne, its air-launched small satellite orbital vehicle, in 2018. Other customers for the launch system, which can carry 500 kilograms to LEO, include NASA, OneWeb, and Sky and Space Global.

This story further strengthens my prediction that LauncherOne (in development for 5 years) will fly in space long before SpaceShipTwo (in development for 13 years).

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Virgin Orbit’s launch jumbo jet arrives at company’s base in California

Capitalism in space: The modified jumbo jet that Virgin Orbit is going to use as the first stage of its LauncherOne rocket, being designed to put smallsats into orbit, arrived yesterday in Long Beach to put it close to the company’s base of operations.

While some of this story is the typical hype we all should expect — and question — from a company run by Richard Branson, Virgin Orbit looks more like the real thing. Last year it was separated from Virgin Galactic, the company that has been promising and failing to fly tourists on suborbital flights now for more than a decade. I suspect this happened because the LauncherOne group did not want to be saddled any longer with the failures of the SpaceShipTwo group.

I have been predicting that LauncherOne will reach space before SpaceShipTwo, and this story only adds weight to that prediction. They have real satellite contracts, and expect their first launch to occur in 2018. While that schedule might not hold, I suspect it will not be far wrong.

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The first 3 of a 200 nanosat constellation delivered for launch

Capitalism in space: Sky and Space Global (SAS) has delivered the first three nanosats — of a planned 200 nanosat constellation — to India for launch.

The first three nanosats are to be launched by India on its PSLV rocket, but SAS has contracted Virgin Orbit to use its LauncherOne to put the next 197 up. They had made this first announcement last summer, saying the first three would launch in the second quarter of 2017. It appears that they are holding to that schedule.

They also said that LauncherOne would begin launching the other 197 satellites in 2018. For this I remain far more skeptical, since the track record at Virgin in getting its spacecraft off the ground on schedule has not been good.

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Virgin Galactic spins off LauncherOne into its own division

The competition heats up: Virgin Galactic this week spun off its LauncherOne smallsat orbital rocket to form a new company called Virgin Orbit.

This split highlights the competition that actually existed within Virgin Galactic. Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo remains a very questionable design. Rather than have its problems suck the profits from LauncherOne, which has contracts and I firmly believe will fly first, the Virgin corporation has pulled it from Virgin Galactic so that the two rockets can succeed or fail on their own. In the end, I suspect now that Virgin Galactic will die and Virgin Orbit will succeed.

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