Virgin orbit is gearing up for a third launch this year – and an even busier year 2022.
The company successfully completed its second space flight in less than six months last Wednesday (June 30), putting seven small satellites into orbit on a mission called “Tubular Bells: Part 1”, based on the first track from the first album ever released by the founder of Virgin Group Richard branson‘s Virgin Records.
Virgin Orbit is still analyzing data from “Tubular Bells: Part 1”. But early feedback suggests the flight was completely nominal, keeping the company on track for another flight this year, likely in the fall, Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart told Space.com.
In picture : Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket for satellite missions
If all goes well with this third flight, the company aims to launch six missions in 2022 and dramatically increase the pace again the following year.
âOver the next year, we’re going to put the gas, mostly in our production team, just to get a higher rate, and increase to at least double that rate. [launch rate] in 23, “Hart said.
Virgin Orbit uses a 70 foot long (21 meter) rocket known as the LauncherOne, which is capable of lifting 1,100 lbs. (500 kilograms) payload in Earth orbit. LauncherOne takes off under the wing of a carrier plane called Cosmic girl, which releases the rocket after reaching a predetermined location and altitude.
This aerial launch system offers flexibility, efficiency and responsiveness that have helped Virgin Orbit gain a foothold in the competitive small launch market, company representatives said. (Virgin group company Galactic Virgo, who is preparing for toss Branson and several other people on a suborbital flight marking this weekend, also uses an aerial launch system.)
Virgin Orbit’s two successful space flights to date have taken off from Mojave Air and Spaceport in Southern California. But the company will soon be expanding its geographic portfolio; he plans to launch missions from Guam and England next year, Hart said.
In addition, Brazil recently selected Virgin Orbit to fly from the AlcÃ¢ntara launch center on the country’s north coast. The company is also in serious discussions to take off from Japan, Australia and “a half-dozen other countries,” Hart said. “It really is an exciting time.”
Longer term, he added, Virgin Orbit aims to have multiple 747 carrier planes stationed at various locations around the world. Such an extensive infrastructure would allow for even higher launch rates, which Virgin Orbit is keen to achieve.
âWe would like to launch every week, or more,â Hart said.
Virgin Orbit also plans to evolve and upgrade its launch system, enabling the delivery of payloads to higher Earth orbits, the moon and other planets, he added. In fact, a few years ago the company formed a consortium with the Polish satellite company SatRevolution (of which two Earth observation satellites were launched on “Tubular Bells: Part 1”) and researchers from several universities. Polish, with the aim of launch of a cubesat mission to Mars In the coming years.
âWe want to be a part of the space economy, and we want to be an accelerator, to help this ongoing transformation,â Hart said.
Mike Wall is the author of “Over there“(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book on the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.