Virgin Orbit Delays Next Launch Until After Merger Vote

LauncherOne ignites after being dropped from Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Orbit has delayed its next satellite launch, originally set for Wednesday, Dec. 22, to next month. The launch will come after shareholders of NextGen Acquisition Corp. II vote on Dec. 28 on whether to merge with Richard Branson’s launch services provider.

The merger with the special purpose acquisition company would allow Virgin Orbit to go public on Nasdaq under its own name. The deal will provide $483 million in capital to allow the company to grow.

The “Above the Clouds” mission is set to launch five satellites over the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. LauncherOne will be dropped by the Boeing 747 Cosmic Girl over the Pacific Ocean near the Channel Islands. An U.S. Coast Guard notice to mariners indicated the company reserved January 8-10 from 2:15-5 p.m. PST for the launch.

The table below shows the payloads for the “Above the Clouds” mission.

Satellite(s)Organization(s)Purpose
PAN-A & PAN-BCornell UniversityTechnology demonstration. CubeSats will autonomously rendezvous and dock in orbit.
STORK-3SatRevolutionEarth observation. Part of SatRevolution’s constellation of spacecraft.
SteamSat-2SatRevolution, SteamJet Space SystemsTechnology demonstration. Satellite built by SatRevolution will demonstrate StreamJet’s water-fueled thrusters.
ADLER-1Spire Global, Austrian Space Forum (OeWF), Findus Venture GmbHSpace debris monitoring. The 3U CubeSat will measure the micro space debris environment in low Earth orbit.

The U.S. Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) awarded the launch to Virgin Orbit’s subsidiary VOX Space as part of the Space Test Program’s Rapid Agile Launch Initiative (RALI). Cornell University’s PAN-A and PAN-B spacecraft are being flown as part of NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program.

ADLER-1, which measures 30 x 10 x 10 cm, was a late addition to the launch manifest. Virgin Orbit received a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration to include the satellite on the mission.

It will be the third LauncherOne flight in a year and the fourth overall. The air-launched booster successfully orbited payloads in January and June 2021. LauncherOne failed on its maiden flight in May 2020 due to a broken propellant line.