Branson’s Virgin Orbit plans more satellite launches in 2022


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As Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic paves the way for space tourism, its sister company, Virgin Orbit, strives to dominate satellites by offering the most efficient fare possible at the lowest cost.

Virgin Orbit’s new vice president of flight and launch activities, Tyler Grinnell, says the market for satellite launches is growing at “the highest rate it has ever been”.

“With the growth in the number of customers, satellite imagery must evolve,” Grinnell told FOX Business in an exclusive interview. “So our services are definitely needed and sought after around the world right now and we are expanding to meet customer demands. ”

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Grinnell joined Virgin Orbit after spending 12 years with Elon Musk’s competitor, SpaceX, where he rose through the ranks from launch engineer to director of launch and recovery operations.

Virgin Orbit VP of Flight and Launch Activities Tyler Grinnell (Photo courtesy of Virgin Orbit)

As Director of Launch and Recovery Operations, Grinnell oversaw the SpaceX team of engineers, technicians and support staff that provide integrated launch, recovery and platform operations for Falcon vehicles. 9 and Dragon, who completed 20 successful missions in 12 months, such as the successful launch and recovery of the first commercial crew astronauts. Prior to SpaceX, he held positions with Boeing and NASA at the Kennedy Space Center.

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Grinnell says he was drawn to the “highly developmental” nature of Virgin Orbit and wanted to help the aerospace company become “fully operational.”

“While I was at SpaceX, we were very successful in doing this,” said Grinnell. “However, I have definitely seen a need elsewhere in space companies and Virgin Orbit specifically has a platform like no other.”

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Virgin Orbit uses a technique called aerial launch, in which its 70-foot, 57,000-pound LauncherOne rocket is launched from an altitude of 35,000 feet under the wing of a 747-400 jet, dubbed the Cosmic Girl, rather than of a traditional launch. ground buffer.

After a 4 second free fall, LauncherOne’s first stage motor ignited, accelerating the rocket to over 8,000 miles per hour. From there, the second-stage engine cranks up, bringing LauncherOne to a top speed of 17,500 miles per hour.

In addition to improving the payload capacity of the rocket, the technique allows LauncherOne to fly on short notice and from a wide variety of locations to access any orbit. LauncherOne can carry satellite payloads weighing between 300 and 500 kilograms.

On June 30, Virgin Orbit made its second successful launch, sending 7 satellites into orbit for the Defense Ministry’s space test program, the Polish satellite SatRevolution and the Royal Netherlands Air Force.

Days later, billionaire Branson blew up the story in space, setting up Jeff Bezos who is expected to do the same on Tuesday.

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While Grinnell says Virgin Orbit is in talks with “many potential space ports around the world every week” to bring LauncherOne’s services to where the demand for the satellite market is highest, the company’s main launch operations are based at Mojave Air and Spaceport in California. Virgin Orbit launch site international partners will include Cornwall, England, Japan, the island of Guam, and Brazil.

Under Grinnell’s leadership, Virgin Orbit is slated for another satellite launch in the fourth quarter of this year, followed by two busy years.

“Next year we’re looking to be just under double digits with launches and almost double the next year,” he said.

Virgin Orbit will work with UK based Arqit Limited, a leader in quantum encryption technology, to perform two low Earth orbit satellite launches starting in 2023. It will also work with defense and security firm QinetiQ and geospatial analysis firm HyperSat to launch six satellites in low earth orbit no earlier than 2023.

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