Virgin Orbit to launch 11 satellites for NASA on Second Launch Demo

Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne under the wing of its adapted Boeing 747 Cosmic Girl
Image from Virgin Orbit
Headshot of Greg Rose
by Greg Rose
2 August 2020

Virgin Orbit’s upcoming Launch Demo 2 mission on LauncherOne will carry 11 small satellites from NASA onboard, as part of NASA’s CubeSat Initiative (CSLI).

The mission is planned to occur before the end of the year, with Virgin Orbit’s carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl taking off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California. Once in orbit, the satellites will conduct a variety of scientific studies and demonstrate new spacecraft technology. By supporting NASA, university-led scientific research and orbital technology demonstrations, the mission strikes at the heart of Virgin Orbit’s purpose of opening access to space for good.

Image from Virgin Orbit
Image from Virgin Orbit

NASA was one of the first customers to sign up for a flight onboard Virgin Orbit’s new rocket, purchasing a flight through a competitive selection process run by NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services program (VLCS), which was designed to help open the door for future dedicated launch opportunities through new, firm fixed-price commercial launch capabilities. True to the spirit of the VCLS program, NASA has elected to fly on this Launch Demo-2 test flight. Nearly every satellite that will be onboard LauncherOne for this mission has been fully designed and built by universities across the US. The missions manifested for flight include:

  • PolarCube (University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, Colorado)

  • MiTEE (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan)

  • CACTUS-1 (Capitol Technology University, Laurel, Maryland)

  • Q-PACE (University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida)

  • TechEdSat-7 (NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California)

  • RadFXSat-2 (Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee)

  • EXOCUBE (California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, California)

  • CAPE-3 (University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Lafayette, Louisiana)

  • PICS (Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah). This mission consists of multiple CubeSats.

  • INCA (New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico)

Once in orbit, the satellites will conduct a variety of scientific studies as well as demonstrate new spacecraft technology.

Image from Virgin Orbit
Image from Virgin Orbit

“Expanding our domestic capability for small satellite launches is of great importance to NASA, CSLI, and the Launch Services Program,” said Scott Higginbotham, mission manager and CSLI/ELaNa lead for NASA. “The combination of innovative small satellites and new dedicated launch vehicles like the ones we are using through the VLCS program will help unlock new ways for NASA to conduct science and to advance space technology. We are excited to be part of this important demonstration mission and to have the opportunity to put these amazing spacecraft into orbit.”

Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said: “We are so very honoured to be supporting NASA by flying these payloads on our upcoming Launch Demo mission. NASA’s mission, coupled with the opportunity to provide a boost to space for university students, is incredibly inspiring to our whole team. It aligns perfectly with our central theme being to open space for everyone. The Virgin Orbit team is hard at work putting the final touches on our next rocket, and doing everything possible to assure a safe and successful flight.”

Further updates about the upcoming Launch Demo 2 mission are expected soon. To stay in the loop, follow Virgin Orbit on social media.