April 11, 2016

Shrinking Satellites Have a Growing Impact

The space industry today is as more exciting than ever, with inspiring missions in work all around the planet. New technology and new investments are making possible things even die-hard space aficionados couldn’t have imagined a decade ago. Some of these new missions are bigger, faster, and more complex than anything ever before attempted. But perhaps the most exciting part of industry lies at the other end of the spectrum, with mission that are small, nimble, and affordable.

As the world’s first commercial spaceline, our purpose is to open space to change the world for good. We are striving to make space much more inclusive not only by hiring a diverse workforce but also by dramatically lowering the price for astronauts and for small satellites to make their way to space. With many more people already signed up to fly on SpaceShipTwo than the 553 who have been to space throughout all of history, that process is well underway for our human spaceflight program. Now, we are seeing the same effect in the satellite industry. Small satellites are making big waves in global space exploration.

In the space industry, mass is money. The heavier a satellite or spacecraft is, the more it will cost to build and launch. By leveraging technology advancements from aerospace, consumer electronics, and other related fields, innovators around the world are finding ways to conduct incredible missions with very small satellites. Because these new satellites cost less, they can be built not only by traditional space industry players but also by newcomers to the space industry — small start-ups, established companies from other industries, space agencies in emerging space nations, or crowdfunded Kickstarter campaigns.

The impact of small satellites is huge. What began as an academic exercise is now a revolution, bringing new types of space data to consumers here on Earth and enabling new modes of exploration. From Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley to the Infinite Corridor at MIT, in garages and board rooms around the world, small satellites are the toast of the industry.

Virgin Galactic is proud to play an important part in launching the small satellite revolution—literally. In our bustling rocket factory in Long Beach, California, we are building and testing all of the major components of LauncherOne, our small satellite launch vehicle. With the capacity to launch 300 kilograms into a 500 km Sun-Synchronous Orbit, we can help small satellite operators get their spacecraft into orbit affordably, reliably, and responsively. We’re building a launch service that matches the value proposition that small satellites themselves offer to their end customers.

We’re excited to help an impressive and growing list of entrepreneurial small sat operators access space. In addition to the customers we’ve previously announced, we’re excited about other future partners like Millennium Space Systems—we’ve been cooperating with Millennium for a while now, and look forward to launching a number of payloads for them in the future. Millennium designs, builds and operates multiple small satellites, performing a variety of new experimental, pathfinder, and operational space missions. Like others, they are seeking a better way to get their payloads to space, starting with at least one payload in 2018.

Small satellites from companies like Millennium and OneWeb or from agencies like NASA will change our world. We’re honored to play a role in helping them meet their goals. To follow along with our journey, and to hear upcoming announcements about other customers who have signed up to fly on LauncherOne, please stay tuned to this site as well as our social media channels (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn).