Virgin Orbit, a subsidiary of Richard Branson and Nik Powell’s Virgin Group of companies, is looking to expand its services to adjacent markets, such as backing small startups developing satellite systems.
The company’s president and CEO, Dan Hart, gave a detailed presentation during this year’s SmallSat Symposium outlining what Virgin Orbit has been developing. After a successful Launch Demo 2 mission back in January, many potential partners have contacted the British company to inquire about investment opportunities.
Launch Demo 2 placed ten CubeSats in orbit, a project that was funded by the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). “It went better than anybody could have ever dreamed. Every part of the system came together,” said Hart. “We have a pretty expansive evolution of the company planned. We are evaluating right now, with success, lots of possibilities and, frankly, we’re getting lots of queries,” said Hart.
In 2020, Virgin Orbit came to the rescue of an Australian startup stuck in the development stage due to bankruptcy. The company, Sky and Space Global, develops communication satellites. Virgin Orbit acquired a part of the company, and in return, it would offer launch services and consultations.
“Launch is a cornerstone of space access and the whole space ecosystem. Virgin Orbit is looking to flex into adjacencies like the Sky and Space Global or the SAS deal. There is a plethora of space adjacencies in other aspects of national security or commercial turnkey systems like SAS is going after,” added Hart. Richard Branson echoed Hart’s sentiments. “There will be a lot of people who do approach the company with wonderful ideas to put satellites into space but just can’t afford it,” he said.
Virgin Orbit will help startup smallsat companies to get their projects off the ground. They might acquire some shares in these companies while assisting them to launch their satellites into orbit. “That’s the kind of entrepreneurial thing Virgin Orbit should be doing,” added Branson. Virgin is not another regular Cubesat company. What sets it apart from the rest is its capacity to launch space vehicles from the airport at any inclination. “We want to be able to launch from any part of the world. That includes a launch from Cornwall Airport Newquay, in England in 2022,” noted Branson. The company’s LauncherOne has attracted clients such as the US Air Force to solve their military problems.
“What makes this particularly unique is our capability for the US Air Force, British Air Force, Canadian Air Force, or the French Air Force, all of whom have been encouraging and working with us over the last two or three years,” said Branson. Virgin Orbit ‘could give its clients a powerful deterrent capability in case they were to lose their satellites anywhere globally. The company could ‘replace them incredibly quickly,’ argued Branson. The next launch will occur in a few months and carry payloads for the Dutch air force, United States Air Force and SatRevolution, a satellite manufacturer based in Poland.