Virgin Galactic's LauncherOne picked for satellite launches

Virgin Galactic's air-launched rocket will perform 39 satellite launches for OneWeb, which provides broadband access in underserved regions.

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Virgin Galactic (Long Beach, CA, US), the privately-funded space company owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments PJS, reports that it has signed a contract with OneWeb Ltd. to serve as one of its inaugural satellite launch providers. Under the terms of the Launch Services Agreement, Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne rocket will perform 39 satellite launches for OneWeb—one of the largest commercial procurements of launches in history. Beyond the firm contract, the agreement provides OneWeb with options for 100 additional launches.

OneWeb—which has announced new investment of $500 million backed by equity partners including Airbus Group, Bharti Enterprises, Grupo Salinas, Hughes Network Systems, (Hughes), a subsidiary of EchoStar Corp. Intelsat, Qualcomm Inc., The Coca-Cola Co. and Virgin Group —is building a global communications system that will enable affordable broadband access around the world, including in areas currently unserved or underserved by terrestrial providers.

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides says, “Virgin Galactic is hard at work to provide responsive launch capability to support OneWeb’s historic constellation. The scale of this order will drive our manufacturing rates to achieve unprecedented cost reductions for small satellite launch. We are excited to support OneWeb and its partners as they harness the potential of small satellites to create new opportunities for all.”

Virgin Galactic says its LauncherOne will enable an unprecedented quick launch and replenishment capability for OneWeb. LauncherOne is said to be an affordable, flexible, and dedicated ride to orbit for small satellites, with the flight rates and performance capabilities to support OneWeb and other customers. Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne program is being developed by a staff of 120 engineers and technicians working from a new 150,000 ft2 manufacturing facility in Long Beach, with rocket engine testing performed at the company’s facilities in Mojave, CA.

As an air-launched rocket, LauncherOne is designed to provide commercial and government-built satellites a flexible launch service that meets each customer’s specific mission requirements.