Virgin Orbit has selected an airport in Japan as a potential site for launching operations using its converted Boeing 747-400 aircraft.
Virgin Orbit has already selected airports in the US, the Pacific island of Guam and UK (Spaceport Cornwall) to operate from and to launch small satellites (up to 500 kgs) for Telecommunications, Earth observation, Internet of Things and climate monitoring.
The company, backed by Richard Branson, has selected Oita Airport in Japan where it now has a partnership with Oita Prefecture to bring aircraft-based launches to Japan.
“With the support of regional partners ANA Holdings Inc. and the Space Port Japan Association, Virgin Orbit has identified Oita Airport as its preferred pilot launch site — yet another addition to the company’s growing global network of horizontal launch sites — in pursuit of a mission to space from Japan as early as 2022,” said a company statement.
The concept uses the Virgin Orbit aircraft ‘Cosmic Girl’ to fly to 35,000 ft and then to discharge a rocket that had been suspended under the aircraft’s wing to carry the satellite cargo on into orbit. The ‘Launcher One’ rocket is a two-stage device. The rockets and their payloads are assembled at Long Beach, California.