LOGAN, Utah (SITAEL PR) – Virgin Orbit was selected to launch a SITAEL satellite developed in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). Virgin Orbit and SITAEL signed a launch service agreement at the 31st AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellite.
With Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne, SITAEL will launch its μHETsat, a technical demonstration of a new electric propulsion system for ESA and ASI. Established in 1994 and headquartered in Mola di Bari, Italy, SITAEL is the largest privately-owned space company in Italy and provides Small Satellites based turn-key solutions, from mission concept to satellite in-Orbit commissioning.
Video Caption: On July 31, 2017 Virgin Orbit’s 747-400 named Cosmic Girl, touched down for the first time in Long Beach Airport. For our airport neighbors, it was a rare sighting of a 747 — and a mobile rocket launcher at that. For Virgin Orbit employees and supporters, including Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, the homecoming marked the completion of significant modification work that enables her to launch rockets for our satellite customers.
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Virgin Orbit’s modified Boeing 747, Cosmic Girl, is now in Long Beach after a brief stay at the Mojave Air and Space Port. The aircraft has been modified to air-launch the LauncherOne small-satellite booster.
Although ground vibration tests of the baseline modified 747 have been conducted to check for aeroelastic stability as well as for detecting potential structural issues, a second series of vibration tests will shortly begin in Long Beach to check for aeroelastic response with a mass representing LauncherOne.
“We will get a basic understanding of the interaction between the airframe and the rocket, and that will be a big part of understanding the flight characteristics,” says LauncherOne Chief Engineer Kevin Sagis.
Flight testing will be divided into four main stages, with the initial phase focused on baseline performance of the “clean” aircraft without the pylon or launch vehicle. Phase two will test performance with the pylon attached. Phase three will be divided into two with the initial work testing the pylon with an empty rocket, and a second period of tests with the rocket “wet” and loaded with water. The fourth phase will be a complete dress rehearsal with the rocket prior to the first release and firing flight test. Virgin appears confident the bulk of the work will be completed over the next four months, though no specific target date for the first launch is yet has been disclosed.
After a decade of broken promises and delays, the next year could bring some very good news for New Mexico’s $225 million taxpayer-funded Spaceport America.
Anchor tenant Virgin Galactic’s lease payments are increasing. And Richard Branson’s prediction for the start of commercial spaceflights there in 2018 appear (for once) to be on the mark, barring major problems with SpaceShipTwo’s flight test program.
So, it would seem that at long last, New Mexico’s hard-pressed taxpayers will finally be off the hook for supporting the spaceport. Right?…I mean, right?
LONG BEACH, Calif. (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Group and Aabar are pleased to announce the appointment of Dan Hart as CEO of Virgin Orbit.
Dan joined the organization in March as President 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.
His appointment is the final step in the planned establishment of Virgin Orbit as an independent space access company dedicated to serving the small satellite market. (more…)
Video Caption: At Virgin Orbit, we test our rocket engines all the time. Here’s a video of a typical test, conducted at our facilities in Mojave, CA. In this video, we test throttling down our NewtonThree rocket engine–the single rocket engine that will power the main stage of our LauncherOne rocket.
California’s Franchise Tax Board is seeking public comment on a proposed new tax that would fall upon ULA, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and other companies launching spacecraft from within the state.
The levy would apply to companies “that generates more than 50 percent of its gross receipts from the provision of space transportation activity for compensation in a taxable year,” the proposal states. Space is defined as 62 statute miles (100 km) or more above Earth. (more…)
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — The portfolio of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center will soon include large-scale satellite manufacturing following Thursday’s groundbreaking for a 150,000-square foot spacecraft factory in the center’s Exploration Park.
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (MoonWatcher PR) — Imagine seeing the Moon as only astronauts have seen it before. Now with MoonWatcher, the FIRST private satellite mounted with a state of the art camera, you will have this amazing opportunity.
Spectacular images of the Moon will stream LIVE to the Internet with accompanying information and featuring the latest lunar news. To accelerate the path to orbit, today MoonWatcher announced a crowdfunding Kickstarter campaign to raise $150K. MoonWatcher will be putting these Kickstarter pledges towards their first satellite, which will be carried by Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) in 2018.
It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.
A New Direction for NASA?
NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.
Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.
Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.
This is an interesting Tweet from Firefly Space Systems’ co-founder Michael A. Blum on Wednesday to Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides with a cc: to Whitesides’ boss, Richard Branson. Claude appears to be Claude M. Stern, one of Virgin Galactic’s lawyers.
Earlier this month, Virgin Galactic filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court against Firefly Systems and two of its officers, Michael Blum and P.J. King, alleging misappropriation of trade secrets and unfair competition.
The lawsuit is related to arbitration between Virgin Galactic and the company’s former vice president of propulsion, Thomas Markusic. Virgin alleges Markusic took trade secrets and confidential information with him when he left his position at the end of 2013 to co-found Firefly with Blum and King.
The lawsuit alleges that Firefly, Blum and King benefited from knowledge that Markusic took with him from Virgin Galactic. Markusic and the defendants have denied the claims.
Firefly laid off all of its employees at the end of September, saying the company had run out of money after an investor pulled out.
Firefly was developing a small satellite launcher, Firefly Alpha, that would have competed for business with the LauncherOne booster that Virgin Galactic is developing.
Virgin Galactic’s service guide for LauncherOne has some interesting details about the air-launch service. The service’s main base will be Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The 747 Cosmic Girl aircraft will fly over the Pacific Ocean and launch satellites into sun-synchronous orbits.
Other operating locations include the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) at the NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida and the NASA Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) in Virginia. The aircraft also can fly from additional locations at customer request.
LauncherOne’s payload capabilities include:
Up to 300 kg / 661 lbm to 500 km/270 nmi SSO
Up to 500 kg / 1100 lbm to 200 km/108 nmi circular 28.5 degree inclination Low Earth Orbit
The booster’s launch altitudes and inclinations include:
Up to 1000 km and greater depending upon payload and inclination
Mojave Air and Space Port: 60 to 102 degrees inclination
Shuttle Landing Facility: 28.5 to 55 degrees inclination
NASA Wallops Flight Facility: 37 to 60 degrees inclination