Virgin Orbit to launch maritime data satellite from the UK

Richard Branson with CEO Dan Hart
Virgin Orbit
Natalie Clarkson
by Natalie Clarkson
6 April 2022

Virgin Orbit has announced an agreement with The Satellite Applications Catapult (The Catapult) to launch the latest satellite in The Catapult’s In-Orbit Demonstration (IOD) programme into space from the UK later this year.

The satellite, called Amber-1, is a partnership between The Catapult and Horizon Technologies. Built by AAC Clyde Space in Scotland, it will be launched by Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne on its historic flight from Spaceport Cornwall this year – a mission that will mark the first-ever orbital launch from a UK spaceport.

Virgin Orbit's orbital launch subsidiary flying over Cornwall
Spaceport Cornwall

The mission will demonstrate how launching from the UK can benefit the rapidly growing UK space sector and enable organisations to rapidly deploy new technologies to orbit with a complete end-to-end capability coordinated from UK soil.

Amber-1 is expected to be the first of more than 20 planned Amber satellites to provide Maritime Domain Awareness data to users. Using unique, patented technology, the system will geolocate and demodulate radio frequency data from ships around the world. Horizon Technologies’ data will be used by governments to provide information on the tracking and prevention of illegal fishing, smuggling, trafficking, piracy and terrorism. Information collected through the programme will be provided to the UK’s Joint Maritime Security Centre for review.

Virgin Orbit's June 2021 space mission - Tubular Bells: Part One
Virgin Orbit

“We are delighted to work with The Catapult and Horizon to launch Amber-1 on this planned historic flight, the first to bring domestic launch capability to the United Kingdom. We believe tracking shipping from space is vital to keeping the seas safe and that Amber-1 is a key technology that will aid this endeavour. This important technology and Virgin Orbit’s collaboration with The Catapult are the latest signs of the growth we are seeing across the UK space economy. This is galvanised by our planned capability to launch straight from the United Kingdom to orbit,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart.

Lucy Edge, COO of The Satellite Applications Catapult added: “We believe this launch will be a huge milestone for the space sector in the UK. This summer, the United Kingdom plans to complete its end-to-end ecosystem enabling companies to design, build, launch, and operate their spacecraft all from one place.

“We look forward to supporting this vibrant sector in demonstrating major advances in agile access to space.”

Richard Branson smiling next to Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart
Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit also recently announced a partnership with tech start-up Space Forge to launch the first Welsh satellite into space this year.

Visit Virgin Orbit to find out more.