Virgin Goes Galactic With Satellites
2009-08-02 0:00


Virgin Galactic is developing a launcher that could propel satellites

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic is developing plans to use its space tourism vehicle WhiteKnightTwo as a platform to launch commercial satellites by 2012

The company is working with UK space exploration company Surrey Small Satellites on plans to develop a launcher that could propel a 200kg satellite into space at roughly 10pc the cost of current technology.

Will Whitehorn, president of Virgin Galactic said: "We have the technology and the investment to put this together. We hope to develop a preliminary satellite launch vehicle ourselves, but will go to the wider market to produce something capable of carrying 200kg, which we believe is the sweet spot in the market."

Mr Whitehorn said that the company hoped to have proposals to put to the market for the development of the satellite launch vehicle in the next four months.

Virgin Galactic has secured $100m of funding from Abu Dhabi's Aabar Investments for the commercial satellite business on top of the $280m co-investment in its space tourism business announced last week. The extra investment would take Aabar's stake in Virgin Galactic from 32pc to 38pc.

The satellite business will target the growing market for low-orbit earth observation and communication satellites.

According to Mr Whitehorn, it could also be used to start construction of server farms in space and to create mobile and broadband networks that could serve areas such as Africa that do not have good cable networks.

Although the development is in its early stages, it could provide a significant boost to the UK space industry, which according to Mr Whitehorn employs around 70,000 people and represents 2.5bn per year in net exports.

Mr Whitehorn said: "This is a hidden industry in the UK but a very important one. In terms of net exports it is bigger than the car industry.

"We hope to be able to use the development of our commercial satellite business to leverage off the tourism work we are already doing and to add real value to the UK economy."


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