Continuing on its mission to open up the space frontier, Virgin Galactic has spun off a new company dedicated to launching small satellites. Virgin Orbit will join the commercial human spaceflight-focused Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company, which is responsible for the design and manufacture of spacecraft for Virgin Galactic, as the third company to fall under the Virgin Group's Galactic Ventures commercial space portfolio.
Virgin Orbit will be headed by Dan Hart, who spent 34 years at Boeing where he was responsible for all Boeing's satellite programs for the US government and other allied countries. Unlike its two company-mates, which are both headquartered in Mojave, California, Virgin Orbit will call Long Beach, California home.
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The new company will take the LauncherOne program from Virgin Galactic, which is working to put satellites into space using a rocket deployed from under the wings of a Boeing 747-400. This is similar to the way Virgin Galactic's human spaceflights will be carried out, with a passenger spacecraft carried to altitude underneath a mothership before being released.
In late 2015, Virgin Galactic took ownership of "Cosmic Girl," a 747-400 aircraft intended to provide a dedicated launch platform for the LauncherOne orbital vehicle. Having previously carried passengers for Virgin Atlantic, the aircraft will be used to carry the LauncherOne rocket to altitudes of up to 35,000 ft (10,670 m), before the rocket is released and ignites to take its payload into orbit.
"Virgin Orbit will lead the world in responsive, affordable, dedicated launch for small satellites," said George T. Whitesides, Galactic Ventures CEO. "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."
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