A fully assembled LauncherOne rocket on the floor of Virgin Orbit’s Long Beach manufacturing facility. This rocket will be used as part of the company’s ground testing campaign in advance of the LauncherOne’s first flight to orbit. Photos courtesy of Virgin Orbit.
Long Beach-based commercial space company Virgin Orbit announced last week that Cloud Constellation Corporation, a commercial satellite developer, has selected the LauncherOne service for the deployment of the SpaceBelt, a constellation of space-based cloud storage data centers.
The commercial space company, founded by Sir Richard Branson as part of the Virgin Co., was established this March. The satellite launch service recently celebrated the public debut of Cosmic Girl, a modified 747-400 set to serve as a mobile launch platform for LauncherOne, a rocket to be carried by the airplane to 35,000 feet of altitude before its release into orbit.
Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart and Cloud Constellation President Cliff Beek signed the agreement for a dozen satellites at the World Satellite Business Week event in Paris, which will become the communications backbone of the SpaceBelt system.
“We’re thrilled to have been selected to deploy the SpaceBelt constellation,” Hart said in a statement. “The work that SpaceBelt will do is a great example of the revolutionary capabilities that are coming with the sharp rise of small satellite manufacturing, business, and launch. These missions wouldn’t have been possible even a few short years ago. Now, innovators working for creative companies can develop an idea like SpaceBelt, get it to orbit, and achieve profitability within a very short period of time.”
During World Satellite Business Week in Paris, Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart (left) and Cloud Constellatino Corp. President Cliff Beek (right) sign an agreement for the launch of 12 SpaceBelt satellites on board LauncherOne.
The SpaceBelt system will provide a secure and global data storage network based in space.
“Users of the system will be able to transport and/or store large blocks of data quickly and securely without exposure to any terrestrial communications infrastructure, protecting their critical data from unauthorized access while supporting global communications at reduced latency of today’s multi-hop networks,” according to a press release from Virgin Orbit.
Fully taking advantage of the LauncherOne, its initial deployment will be powered by a dozen ~400 kilogram satellites placed into low inclination orbits. As a launch service for small satellites, the SpaceBelt constellation will be distributed using single-manifested launches happening in rapid sequence. The launch is expected to happen as early as 2019.
“The LauncherOne system was literally designed for companies and missions like ours,” Beek said in a statement. “We are offering our customers a highly reliable, highly flexible service—and the team at Virgin Orbit are supplying us with exactly those same values in turn. LauncherOne is a critical enabler of our mission.”
Virgin Orbit stated it is in the process of qualification and test flight for the LauncherOne service, which includes a two-stage expendable rocket and a fully-reusable air-launch platform. It recently completed assembly of a complete pathfinder rocket at the Long Beach factory; system’s 747-400 flying launch pad began its flight test campaign.
The system is designed to provide highly responsive, reliable, and affordable flights to Low Earth Orbit to small satellites. The initial flight of the LauncherOne system is targeted for the first half of 2018.