Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit reveals plan to bring its satellite launch business to Japan

Richard Branson’s satellite launch service is coming to Japan.

Virgin Orbit announced on Thursday that it plans to bring its LauncherOne system to Japan in partnership with airline operator ANA Holdings Inc, which will provide maintenance and possibly aircraft.

The news comes a day after Spaceport Cornwall revealed the concept for its planned launch facility at Cornwall Airport Newquay in the United Kingdom, which is being funded in part by Virgin Orbit. 

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system is undergoing testing with the aim of launching rockets bearing small satellites into space from a modified jumbo jet. 

The company said it will conduct its first orbital test flight later this year.

Branson’s space ventures, however, have a history of delays, with his space tourism company Virgin Galactic running more than a decade behind the schedule originally promised by the British billionaire.

Virgin Orbit and ANA Holdings, parent of All Nippon Airways (ANA), in a joint statement said they will identify a launch site together with Space Port Japan, an industry-backed body which aims to turn Japan into a space business hub.

The space venture has already announced launch sites in the United States, Guam, Britain and Italy.

Japan’s space industry spans large scale government-backed rocket launches by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd – which launched the Michibiki satellite navigation system – to Interstellar Technologies, a startup backed by internet entrepreneur Takafumi Horie that last month launched its first rocket to reach space.

At the same time, Virgin Orbit will be contributing $3.2 million (£2.5 million) to the development of the UK’s Spaceport Cornwall.

The UK Space Agency will be putting forward £7.85 million ($10 million) in funding for the scheme, in addition to an estimated £12 million ($15 million) from Cornwall Council.

The plan, however, is still subject to final approvals.

Branson has also ramped up efforts with his other aerospace venture, Virgin Galactic, with which he hopes to soon bring about space tourism.

The firm has completed several successful tests over the last year, including a test this winter with its first passenger on board – a NASA scientist evaluating the passenger experience.

The firm announced last month it is moving its operations to New Mexico.


Jeff Bezos’ space tourism project with Blue Origin is competing with a similar programme in development by Space X, the rocket firm founded and run by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and Virgin Galactic, backed by Richard Branson.

Bezos revealed in April 2017 that he finances Blue Origin with around $1 billion (£720 million) of Amazon stock each year.

The system consists of a pressurised crew capsule atop a reusable ‘New Shepard’ booster rocket. 

The richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos is pursuing Blue Origin with vigour as he tries to launch his ‘New Glenn’ rocket into low-Earth orbit by 2020.  

Whilst Bezos is yet to leave the atmosphere of Earth, despite several successful launches, Elon Musk’s SpaceX programme has already sent the Falcon Heavy rocket into space.

On February 6 2018, SpaceX sent the rocket towards the orbit of Mars, 140 million miles away. 

On board was a red Tesla roadster that belonged to Musk himself.

SpaceX have won several multi-million dollar contracts from Nasa as the space agency hopes to use the rockets as a fast-track for its colonisation of the red planet. 

It has successfully sent a Dragon capsule to the ISS and undocked without a hitch.

NASA has already selected two astronauts who will be on-board the first manned Dragon mission.  

Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic successfully conducted two test flight of the Virgin Galactic’s Unity spaceplane. 

The first took place in December 2018 and the latest took place on February 22nd.

The flight accelerated to over 2,000 miles per hour (Mach 2.7). 

More than 600 affluent customers to date, including celebrities Brad Pitt and Katy Perry, have reserved a $250,000 (£200,000) seat on one of Virgin’s space trips, 

The billionaire mogul also said he expects Elon Musk to win the race to Mars with his private rocket firm SpaceX. 

SpaceShipTwo can carry six passengers and two pilots. Each passenger gets the same seating position with two large windows – one to the side and one overhead.

The space ship is 60ft long with a 90inch diameter cabin allowing maximum room for the astronauts to float in zero gravity.

It climbs to 50,000ft before the rocket engine ignites. SpaceShipTwo separates from its carrier craft, White Knight II, once it’s passed the 50-mile mark.

Passengers become ‘astronauts’ when they reach the Karman line, the boundary of Earth’s atmosphere.

The spaceship will then make a sub-orbital journey with approximately six minutes of weightlessness, with the entire flight lasting approximately 1.5 hours.  


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