Virgin Galactic Spins Off Launcher Business

Cosmic Girl 747 with LauncherOne (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

MOJAVE, Calif. (Virgin Galactic PR) — Our world class team has been steadily and diligently building capabilities in three related areas: human spaceflight operations; small satellite launch; and advanced aerospace design, manufacturing, and test. To remain leaders in these three fields, we have grown our organizational structure to match the industry landscape. Focused companies produce excellent outcomes, and while a diversified service set might be great in some fields, we want to grow in each of these areas that support each of these categories.

Effective today, our family of space companies numbers three. As with before, Virgin Galactic will be our commercial human spaceflight services provider and The Spaceship Company will continue to offer design, manufacturing and testing services to build vehicles for Virgin Galactic. And our small satellite LauncherOne team will become our newest company: Virgin Orbit.

Virgin Orbit will be led by President Dan Hart, who joins Virgin Orbit after a distinguished 34 years at Boeing, where he was responsible for all of the company’s satellite programs for the US government and several allied countries. As Boeing’s Vice President of Government Satellite Systems, he led efforts in all phases of the aerospace product life cycle, from R&D through development, production and flight operations, and has supported numerous space launch missions across human spaceflight, satellite development, launch vehicle development, and missile defense.

Virgin Orbit is the third company in Virgin Group’s commercial space portfolio, Galactic Ventures, led by CEO George T. Whitesides and owned by the Virgin Group and Aabar Investments PJS. Our three companies are developing world-leading aerospace products and services in the following categories, each contributing to our shared vision of opening space to change the world for good.

Galactic Ventures CEO George T. Whitesides: “Virgin Orbit will lead the world in responsive, affordable, dedicated launch for small satellites. Our new organizational structure positions each Virgin space company to achieve its full potential while remaining true to our shared purpose of opening space to all. It is a testament to the Virgin Orbit team that we start this chapter with our newest space company led by an exceptional individual like Dan.”

Virgin Orbit President Dan Hart: “The Virgin Galactic team has been boldly blazing the trail in a rapidly evolving space industry and I am thrilled to join the team. In 34 years at Boeing, I’ve had the honor to work on some of the most iconic and successful space programs in history including the Space Shuttle, the Delta launch program and satellite systems that have connected the world and protected our nation. Along the way, I’ve been privileged to work alongside incredibly talented engineers and industry leaders who have contributed to my own approach to innovation in space systems. The perfect next challenge is to lead Virgin Orbit’s entrepreneurial team through a transformative time for not only Virgin Orbit but also the industry. To me, the Virgin brand is about making life on Earth better, and we are going to fulfill that purpose by accessing Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to connect billions of people and enabling valuable applications of data from space through Virgin Orbit’s flexible, affordable, and reliable launch service.”

In the coming months, we will share more details, launch new websites and unveil Virgin Orbit’s new brand identity. In the meantime, please join Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company in welcoming our newest company, Virgin Orbit!

  • very stupid idea

  • ThomasLMatula

    No, very smart idea as they are distancing it from the coming closing down of their tourist business. SpaceShipTwo is a dinosaur, who is going to want to buy a roller coaster ride on an outdated stunt plane when other tourists are going to the Moon or riding a “real rocket” (New Shepard). A decade ago it may have been success, but now its yesterday’s news. It’s the Princess Flying Boat all over again.

    The business and engineering mistakes Burt Rutan/Sir Richard Branson made because of the Ansari X-Prize are finally catching up with them. I see spinning off the only part of VG that may be viable to legally separated it from VG as the first step in the process of preparing to pull the plug on VG.

  • Chuck Lauer

    No matter what you may think about SpaceShip Two and the business and engineering skills of Burt Rutan and Sir Richard Branson, the facts are that a) VG has a $150 million backlog of customer reservations that they would like to convert in to revenue b) they have $400 million of OPM (Other People’s Money) specifically the Abu Dhabi Sovereign Fund that came with expectations and conditions that might be difficult to just walk away from and c) there is a lot of the overall Virgin brand and Sir Richard’s personal brand and energy already invested in VG.
    Now that the second SS2 vehicle is in testing, I can’t see them pulling the plug on the space tourism business unless there is another catastrophic accident with the second ship. Spinning out the orbital launch business into a separate company is a common sense housekeeping item since the manufacturing, operations and customer base are totally separate already.

  • Paul Thomas

    “who is going to want to buy a roller coaster ride” 700 people have put down deposits for a start!

  • Paul Thomas

    “real rocket” LOL

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, and the space world has changed greatly from when the bulk of the survivors did it over 12 years ago. Although it might be a nice gift to leave your kids, like the old Pan Am moon tickets were 🙂

  • ThomasLMatula

    Not as difficult as you think. Investments go bad all the time. The only thing keeping this afloat is Sir Richard Branson’s personal “energy investment” but 18 years after launching the VG brand it is probably wearing thin on him. The spark seems to be gone and that is the magic that drives the Virgin Brand name.

  • Hemingway

    “Virgin Orbit hopes to conduct its first test flight by the end of the year.” This is an example of Branson’s false promises. We will see!

  • WhoAmI

    And… the BO “real rocket” alternative has almost twice the thrust for almost twice the burn duration and sways quite a bit under the parachutes on the way down, which makes it a much less pleasant trip. In addition, the New Shepard experience includes less than 10 minutes of total flight duration vs SpaceShipTwo’s estimated 2.5 hours of flight time (albeit mostly docked to WhiteKnightTwo).

    That being said, some people might want to get it over with quickly, especially if they have to get back to a board meeting in Silicon Valley. They might not have time for the full experience.

  • JamesG

    Rigbt. And all those people and investors are going to sue when VG folds. Thus the firewall of splitting the assets into separate companies.

  • Pete Zaitcev

    Can’t wait to see what Doug thinks about this move. He knows Virgin Galactic better then anyone.

  • Paul Thomas

    Just wondering what qualifications you possess to state “when” rather than ‘if’?

  • JamesG

    I probably got my Internet Expert badge from the same brand of cereal box you did.

  • JamesG

    It all depends on what you want in your experience. Many people associate “space” with “rockets” not “airplanes”. Esp. If you are nostagic for the Space Race.

  • Richard Malcolm

    If indeed Virgin Galactic is in terminal condition, it has far more to do with “business and engineering mistakes Burt Rutan/Sir Richard Branson made because of the Ansari X-Prize” than anything Elon Musk is up to. The business case for SpaceX moonshots is vastly different, because it’s a vastly more expensive service.

  • P.K. Sink
  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, those mistakes put VG in this position, but its the changing industry environment that has bought VG to this turning point.

    I see Sir Richard Branson having two options. First is continuing the current VG strategy that has the fate of VG and SpaceshipTwo being interlocked. Basically riding his Anasari X-Prize/Burt Rutan decision to the end.

    Or Sir Richard Branson could return to the roots that marked the founding of VG in 1999 as a space tourist firm and move beyond SS2, first buying/leasing 2-3 New Shepards from BO to start flying suborbital flights from Spaceport America. Unlike other spaceports VG’s name has been associated with Spaceport America is very well suited to operating the New Shepard. Indeed, the reason it was located was because

    Then to enhance the futuristic image of VG work with Bigelow Aerospace to create a space hotel as a destination for orbital tourists using the Dragon as the means to get there. It could be a few years out but would put the glamor back in the VG brand.

    If he wants he could probably continue SS2 as its current development rate, but VG’s fate will not be dependent on it anymore. It will break the firm free of the marketing myopic strategy it has now.