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Virgin Orbit wins Japan launch contract

May 10, 2022

By Chris Forrester

Virgin Orbit, which is focused on taking small-to-medium sized satellites into low Earth orbit, has won a contract from Japan’s Q-Shu Pioneers of Space for its iQPS craft.

The satellite is a scientific Earth observation mission and is expected to launch “early” in 2023.

Selected for Virgin’s LauncherOne rocket-plane combination and its ability to provide direct access to diverse orbits, Virgin Orbit expects to launch the QPS-SAR-5 satellite into a tailored mid-inclination orbit to allow iQPS to expand the coverage of its constellation and revisit rate. By directly injecting the QPS-SAR-5 into the desired orbit on iQPS’s schedule, LauncherOne’s flexibility should allow for iQPS to rapidly commission the QPS-SAR-5 and begin collecting information from areas of key interest to its customers, says Virgin Orbit.

iQPS is planning to establish a constellation of 36 satellites which enable the observation of particular locations almost everywhere in the world in around 10 minutes or every 10 minutes to a fixed area for observation. Additionally, iQPS has succeeded in acquiring 70 cm resolution images with QPS-SAR-2, and subsequent satellites including QPS-SAR-5 are expected to achieve even higher resolution.

Virgin’s air-launcher system ‘LauncherOne’ and its carrier aircraft ‘Cosmic Girl’ deployed seven customer satellites to 500 km circular orbit at 45 degrees inclination after taking off from Mojave Air and Spaceport in Mojave, California – a first for the launch industry.

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