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Virgin Orbit and a Japanese airline have teamed up to develop an air-launch method

ByJerzy Nawrocki

Nov 25, 2021

Virgin Orbit has reached a non-binding deal with ANA Holdings, the parent company of All Nippon Airways, which is a major Japanese airline, to purchase 20 LauncherOne rocket flights from an airfield in Japan’s Oita Prefecture.

ANA and other partners will fund the production of mobile ground support devices for the LauncherOne system, which will fly from the pre-existing runway, under the conditions of a memorandum of the agreement released Nov. 4 by Virgin Orbit. According to Virgin Orbit, ANA would also “lead the effort to provide money and assistance for [20 envisioned] orbital trips.”

Oita might be ready for deployment missions by the close of 2022, Virgin Orbit said, pending regulatory permissions in Japan and the United States. LauncherOne is a 2-stage air-launched rocket able to put small satellites into sun-synchronous orbit measuring up to 500 kilograms. The rocket is launched from underneath the wing of a modified Boeing 747 airplane at a high altitude.

After the Andersen Air Force Base situated in Guam, Virgin Orbit chose Oita Prefecture in Japan as the second hand-picked venue in Asia to launch LauncherOne rockets. The business cleared the US Federal Aviation Administration’s environmental study in September and expects to begin launching from the US Air Force facility in Guam next year. Virgin Orbit presently launches from Mojave Air and Space Port situated in California, but it is working to expand its launch sites to include Spaceport Cornwall in the UK.

In a statement released November 4, Virgin Orbit Chief Executive Officer Dan Hart said, “ANA is a world-class firm with an amazing legacy of aeronautical innovation, commercial accomplishment, and customer happiness, making them an absolute right partner to deliver air-launch to Asia.” “We are ecstatic to be working with such a brilliant and prestigious organization to advance space launch and meet the rapidly expanding demand for launch.” We look forward to working with ANA to support the space economy’s continued evolution.”

The agreement was warmly welcomed by ANA’s executive vice president, Koji Shibata. “ANA is thrilled to partner with Virgin Orbit to provide customers in Japan with a responsive launch as well as space solutions services. In Japan and Asia, demand for the satellite launches is rapidly growing, and it is anticipated that the range of launches will be wanted by customers,” Shibata stated in the same statement. “Virgin Orbit has a capability that no other launch business can match, and that capacity will be immensely significant to Japan’s and the region’s burgeoning space industries.”

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