Launching the small satellite revolution

 It won’t be long until Virgin Orbit is taking small satellites into space and improving everyone’s access to data around the globe.

I recently visited one of the newest members of the Virgin family in Long Beach, and saw how the pace of progress has really accelerated in recent months with big milestones being hit every week. I speak to CEO Dan Hart very regularly, but it was wonderful to see it all for myself. 

The team is really dedicated to launching the small satellite revolution and they are in the final stages of testing for LauncherOne, a rocket that will launch at 35,000ft from our 747 plane Cosmic Girl. 

Small satellites have huge potential to change people’s lives for the better. They connect us to each other, help us understand the world around us, keep us safe, grow the world’s economies, and expand the limits of human knowledge. In recent years, satellites have gotten smaller and cheaper but launching them can still be very costly. Enter Virgin Orbit. Like the satellites our customers are flying, our launch system is light, fast, flexible, and affordable.

The team told me about the progress they have made and the challenges they have overcome along the way in software, flight controls, propulsion, structural assembly and avionics and how close they are now to launching satellites into space. These sorts of challenges are to be expected when designing a new rocket, but expected or not, they must be wrestled with and overcome. I’m very proud of the team at Virgin Orbit, which never hesitates to get creative when dreaming up new solutions.

Three years ago, the team moved into their Long Beach rocket factory around 40 people and a few machines. They are growing at such a strong pace that they have had to find a new home for their launch equipment and a place where they can start building a state-of-the-art payload processing facility to provide unmatched customer service in true Virgin style.

It’s staggering how in such a short space of time they have gone from firing engines for a fraction of a second to firing engines for six minutes at a time.

The company really is building momentum and it was great to be a part of a “Boost Imagination” event—a wonderful and very Virgin opportunity to bring together every member of the team to celebrate amazing feats, frankly identify the challenges yet to come, and remind ourselves of why we do all this hard work in the first.

The team got to hear from some of the leading satellite companies in the world about how the missions that fly on LauncherOne really will change the world. Howard Lance, the CEO of Maxar—a very well established space company making a bold push into the realm of smallsats—shared a beautiful update on his team’s work to use satellite data to eradicate polio. Bryan LeBlanc, the CFO of Spire Global—a hot Silicon Valley start-up—talked of how their small, customizable satellites can be used for everything from getting better weather forecasts to  preventing future Malaysia Airlines Flight 370-style aircraft tragedies.

To wrap it all up, I really enjoyed hosting a quiz-show game for all the employees and customers – the atmosphere was really buzzing and the crowd really got involved. 

From talking to our customers and tracking the contracts as they get signed, I can see we are bringing the LauncherOne into service at the perfect time as the market develops. Thankfully, the Virgin Orbit team is moving quickly! 

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