Virgin Orbit and Japan’s Biggest Airline to Make History With Air-Launched Rockets

For the first time in history, rockets will be launched from an airplane, in Japan. 7 photos
Photo: Virgin One/Instagram
Air-Launch ServicesAir-Launch ServicesAir-Launch ServicesAir-Launch ServicesAir-Launch ServicesVirgin One Signs Agreement with ANA
Sir Richard Branson’s space launch company is on a roll – Virgin Orbit is introducing air-launch services to the Eastern Hemisphere. For the first time in history, rockets will be air-launched from Japan – a premiere and a boost for the aerospace industry in Asia.
Japan is definitely not a beginner when it comes to satellite technology, and its aerospace industry has a long and reputable history. But space-related technology has only been launched from fixed sites on the ground, in Japan and all across Asia. This is about to change, as a result of the recent partnership between Branson’s Virgin Orbit and ANA HOLDINGS, the owner of Japan’s largest airline.

The two companies have signed a purchase agreement for twenty flights of the LauncherOne rocket. Virgin Orbit’s air-launch service will debut in Japan, with support from ANA’s logistics and transport services. More specifically, ANA, together with its other partners, will invest in the manufacturing of a new mobile ground support system.

The orbital missions will be launched from a base located in the Oita prefecture, which is scheduled to become a fully-functional spaceport for air-launched services, by the end of 2022.

The LauncherOne rockets will kick off their missions from Japan, with the help of a customized Boeing 747. The airplane acts as the rocket’s aerial launch pad, mobile mission control, and reusable first stage. Thanks to the aircraft’s ability to deliver a long distance between take-off and release, the launch can be performed despite weather challenges, and with better “direct-inject orbital flexibility”, compared to fixed ground-based launches.

Data shows that Japan’s aerospace industry is booming – the number of startups in this field has more than doubled in the past six years. Plus, according to ANA’s Representative Director, Koji Shibata, demand for satellite launches is continuously increasing not just in Japan, but also throughout Asia. Air-launches have never been available in the region until now, which makes this a historic moment in Japan’s aerospace development.

After receiving regulatory approvals in the U.S. and Japan, Oita will become the first LauncherOne-ready spaceport in the island country in East Asia.
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About the author: Otilia Drăgan
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Otilia believes that if it’s eco, green, or groundbreaking, people should know about it (especially if it's got wheels or wings). Working in online media for over five years, she's gained a deeper perspective on how people everywhere can inspire each other.
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