Virgin Orbit last week announced an agreement with ANA to bring the company’s LauncherOne service to Japan. The small satellite launch system will complement Japan’s existing larger vehicles and provide convenient options for the country’s growing small satellite ecosystem.
Under the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), ANA will evaluate its capabilities to provide aircraft and ground support maintenance and “potentially additional aircraft” to support Virgin Orbit’s local launch operations, as well as logistics and transport services for Virgin Orbit’s local launch operations across Asia, according to Virgin Orbit’s press release. ANA and Virgin Orbit will work with Space Port Japan to select and setup an ideal launch site – i.e. airport location – to host LauncherOne operations in Japan.
“Japan has long been a global source of innovation and a leader in space, and with the small satellite market growing so impressively, we are seeing countless new satellite applications and businesses emerge in the region. With this new partnership, we’re excited to bring LauncherOne’s unique responsiveness and flexibility to Asia for the first time,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart, “ANA has the respect and trust of customers around the world—and we look forward to working closely with them to stimulate the small satellite market in Japan.”
Virgin Orbit uses a 747 widebody jet as the carrier aircraft and launch pad for its LauncherOne vehicle, enabling the company to conduct operations anywhere in the world with a large runway , support infrastructure and the appropriate open airspace. The LauncherOne system is now in the final phases of testing and is on track for Virgin Orbit to conduct its first orbital test flight later this year.
The Mojave Air and Space Port in California will be home to Virgin Orbit’s first orbital launch, as well as subsequent launches to high inclination orbits. Other spaceports working to support Virgin Orbit operations include NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, Spaceport Cornwall in the United Kingdom and the Taranto-Grottaglie Airport in Italy.
Providing launch services locally enables nearby countries to launch satellites without having to incur travel expenses, customs headaches and potential wear/mishaps during shipping, as well as bringing and keeping some dollars in-country/in-region, depending upon the customer. Flying out of Anderson Air Force Base in Guam enables LauncherOne to delivery maximum payload to low Earth Orbit due to Guam’s proximity to the equator while the UK government is supporting operations at Cornwall as part of a larger effort to build up a national portfolio of space capabilities.