Virgin, a major player in the NewSpace sector, has been in the news in recent years for its goal of sending tourists to space in coming years (or months). Virgin Orbit is another enterprise that operates in the network Virgin Galactic’s three capabilities: human spaceflight, advanced aerospace design and manufacturing and small satellite launch. VirginOrbit focuses explicitly on providing revolutionary launch services for small satellites.
Formed in 2017 with the purpose of developing the air-launched LauncherOne rocket, the company has successfully reached orbit with their LauncherOne spacecraft, releasing ten CubeSats in early 2021. With the goal of servicing a rapidly expanding industry, Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne seeks to combine state-of-the-art manufacturing with innovative technology to provide an agile and affordable launch service for satellites. In a nutshell, the company is on a mission to open space.
On A Mission to Open Space
As part of Virgin Orbit’s vision, they seek to solve the issue that small satellite operators tend to have little to no control over launch schedules and never get the opportunity to launch altogether. Rideshares aren’t enough to provide the service or flexibility that small satellites need. Virgin seeks to solve that issue.
The motivation behind the company’s mission is many-fold. For one, they seek to launch more satellites into space to enhance life on Earth. From connecting rural communities via communications to monitoring global climate change, Virgin seeks to use space to drive lasting and positive changes for Earth’s citizens. The Virgin team boosts STEM education in local communities and strives to provide diversity and inclusion in the industry. Virgin Orbit’s outreach program and its environmental and philanthropic activities are now merged under the name Orbit for Everyone, reflecting the importance of the global community for people who benefit from space exploration.
They also plan to break barriers by enabling space veterans to pursue missions in innovative ways. Virgin Orbit is also proactive in providing opportunities to go to space for students, driven entrepreneurs and everyday citizens who never thought they’d get to reach orbit.
Rocket Launch Technologies
The company’s LauncherOne is a two-stage expendable rocket that can load 57,000 lbs of takeoff weight with payload. The vehicle uses a NewtonFour second-stage engine with a 6 minute run time over multiple burns and flies at a maximum speed of 17,500 mph. The all-carbon composite is built to minimize mass and is built in-house to give Virgin full control over the quality of production and timing.
Each year, they plan to build 24 rockets at their headquarters in Long Beach, California. The Virgin Orbit team’s vertically integrated approach that works with the payload, engineering and manufacturing operations gives the company a high production and delivery rate. Building a hub for all Virgin’s operations has allowed the team to reduce testing and development time compared to the industry average.
Check out Virgin Orbit’s website and book a tour to see their facilities!