Skip to main content

Virgin Orbit scores deal to launch satellites for the Department of Defense

Virgin Orbit scores deal to launch satellites for the Department of Defense

/

The company is hoping to do more deals with the defense community

Share this story

The first completed LauncherOne test vehicle headed for Mojave.
The first completed LauncherOne test vehicle headed for Mojave.
Image: Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit — one of the Virgin Group’s three primary space companies — has scored a deal with the Department of Defense, agreeing to launch experimental satellites for the agency on the company’s future LauncherOne rocket. The mission, slated for 2019, marks the first national security agreement for the private spaceflight company.

While its sister company Virgin Galactic is focused on space tourism, Virgin Orbit’s goal is to launch small satellites with its LauncherOne. The rocket is designed to take off from the air, after riding to an altitude of 35,000 feet under the wing of a Boeing 747-41R aircraft called Cosmic Girl. After dropping from the wing, Launcher One will fire its engine, carrying its payloads into orbit. Ultimately, the rocket can carry up to 1,100 pounds, perfect for small- to medium-sized satellites.

The mission is slated for 2019

Virgin Orbit already has a number of customers lined up to fly on LauncherOne, from commercial small satellite operators to NASA. But the venture is also interested in launching national security satellites. That’s why it recently formed a subsidiary known as VOX Space, aimed at setting up deals with the defense and intelligence community. “Anything where the payload itself needs to be handled in a secure facility, they will be involved in mission planning,” Will Pomerantz, vice president for special projects at Virgin Orbit, tells The Verge of VOX Space. “They’re there to keep both the physical stuff and data safe and secure.”

An artistic rendering of how LauncherOne will take off after being released from an airplane
An artistic rendering of how LauncherOne will take off after being released from an airplane
Image: Virgin Orbit

But first, Virgin Orbit needs to finish testing its rocket. The first complete LauncherOne test vehicle was recently transported from the company’s Long Beach factory to its testing facility in Mojave. “We’re really excited our first rocket has left the building,” says Pomerantz. “It puts us another step closer to our first flight.”

In Mojave, the vehicle will only be tested on the ground. Ultimately, the company plans to build around five LauncherOnes for testing over the next few months, Pomerantz says. In the meantime, the company has built most of its first orbital vehicle, which could launch for the first time early next year. If that launch is a success, Virgin Orbit will start putting customers on the next flights, according to Pomerantz.

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne program may also soon benefit from the Virgin Group’s recent deal with Saudi Arabia, which agreed to invest $1 billion in the company’s space ventures. The deal is still waiting approval by the US government, and it’s unclear how much of the investment Virgin Orbit will receive. But that much money could really help speed up the LauncherOne program — and make the vehicle active sooner than later.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 25 Not just you

E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 25
Rihanna’s headlining the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Apple Music’s set to sponsor the Halftime Show next February, and it’s starting out strong with a performance from Rihanna. I honestly can’t remember which company sponsored the Halftime Show before Pepsi, so it’ll be nice to see how Apple handles the show for Super Bowl LVII.


E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 25
Starlink is growing.

The Elon Musk-owned satellite internet service, which covers all seven continents including Antarctica, has now made over 1 million user terminals. Musk has big plans for the service, which he hopes to expand to cruise ships, planes, and even school buses.

Musk recently said he’ll sidestep sanctions to activate the service in Iran, where the government put restrictions on communications due to mass protests. He followed through on his promise to bring Starlink to Ukraine at the start of Russia’s invasion, so we’ll have to wait and see if he manages to bring the service to Iran as well.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 25
We might not get another Apple event this year.

While Apple was initially expected to hold an event to launch its rumored M2-equipped Macs and iPads in October, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman predicts Apple will announce its new devices in a series of press releases, website updates, and media briefings instead.

I know that it probably takes a lot of work to put these polished events together, but if Apple does pass on it this year, I will kind of miss vibing to the livestream’s music and seeing all the new products get presented.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.


Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
A
Youtube
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.


A
The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.


T
Twitter
Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.