Virgin Orbit announces its next mission: Tubular Bells, Part One

Virgin Orbit Tubular Bells part one
Virgin Orbit
Natalie Clarkson
by Natalie Clarkson
6 May 2021

Since its first spaceflight in January, Virgin Orbit has been working towards its next flight with LauncherOne. 

The satellite launch company has retired its “Launch Demo” programme and mission names, and is now preparing for its upcoming mission, which it has named “Tubular Bells, Part One”.

LauncherOne is fully assembled and nearly ready to take the next customers’ satellites into space, and will soon be moved to Virgin Orbit’s Mojave test site for pre-launch operations. 

While the space industry has traditionally been slow to ramp up from early tests to the start of commercial service, Virgin Orbit is changing that. Currently its efforts are on track for its next orbital launch in June.

Virgin Orbit
Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit is tipping its hat to the origins of the Virgin brand with the name of this mission too. Tubular Bells was the first album released by Virgin Records, after Richard Branson decided to help an unknown musician with a demo tape unlike anything else on the airwaves in 1973. With no other record label willing to release the album, Richard decided to create his own and Virgin Records was born. The album, Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, went on to become an international hit, topping the charts for months, winning major awards and going into the record books as one of the top sellers of the 1970s.

Virgin Orbit’s customers are the same – they’re doing something out of the ordinary for the space industry – and Virgin Orbit has created a whole new way to launch that is tailored just for them. So what better way to celebrate their creative work and bold decisions than with Tubular Bells?

Mike Oldfield (left) and Richard Branson in The Manor recording studio in the 1970s
Virgin Group

The lowdown

Mission Name: “Tubular Bells, Part One”

Launch Timing: June 2021

Target Orbit: 500 km, circular orbit at 60 degrees inclination

Launch Site: As with the previous mission, Virgin Orbit will conduct the mission from what is currently a bare concrete pad at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California

Launch Coverage: A public livestream of the mission will be available on the Virgin Orbit website. You can also get real-time updates via social media: just follow Virgin Orbit on Twitter (@VirginOrbit)

Mission Manifest: 

  • The U.S. Department of Defense, which is launching three CubeSat sets as part of the DoD Space Test Program’s (STP) Rapid Agile Launch (RALI) Initiative. This launch, also known as STP-VP27A, was awarded to Virgin Orbit subsidiary VOX Space by the DoD’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), an organization working to accelerate the adoption of commercial technology into the U.S. military to strengthen national security.  

  • The Royal Netherlands Air Force, which is launching the Netherlands’ first military satellite, a CubeSat called BRIK II, built and integrated by Innovative Solutions in Space, with contributions from the University of Oslo, the Delft University of Technology, and Royal Netherlands Aerospace Centre. 

  • SatRevolution, which is launching the first two optical satellites, STORK-4 and STORK-5 (A.K.A. MARTA), of the company’s 14-satellite STORK constellation.

Visit Virgin Orbit to find out more and follow on Twitter (@VirginOrbit) for all the latest.