Virgin Orbit has announced a new partnership with the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force. A new RAF project, named ARTEMIS, has selected Virgin Orbit for launch services beginning as early as late 2020.
The goal of ARTEMIS (not to be confused with the American human spaceflight program of the same name) is to demonstrate responsive launch of small satellites to support the RAF and allied forces. The program was created to make use of commercial innovation in order to operate in space quickly, in response to an “evolving space landscape.” ARTEMIS missions will be procured with very short notice: as little time as a week prior to launch. This differs from standard launch procurement timelines which usually extend over years of planning.
These missions will utilize Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket, and take advantage of their Boeing 747-400 carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl. The air-launched system offers several benefits, such as flexible launch sites, access to any orbital inclination, and weather avoidance. Air launch enables agile launch capabilities not offered by other systems, which are often constrained to ground based launch sites with limited inclination options and frequent weather challenges.
Virgin Orbit’s Boeing 747-400 carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl – via Jack Beyer ...