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Virgin Orbit and ANA Sign Agreement for 20 Flights

LauncherOne to Operate from Japan’s Oita Prefecture

Virgin orbit and ANA Holdings, the largest airline in Japan, have agreed to a memorandum of understanding that will result in 20 flights of Virgin’s LauncherOne from Oita, Japan. Included in the deal is a requirement for ANA and industry partners to fund the creation of a new set of mobile ground support equipment to support the LauncherOne system for takeoff from a pre-existing runway, with the eventual goal of making Oita a spaceport, ideally by the end of 2022. 

To date, Japan’s satellite technology has been bound to fixed launch sites, a weakness they aim to rectify with the inclusion of Virgin’s mobile launch equipment. If successful in their projects, Virgin Orbit is set to bring air-launches into being for the first time in the Eastern Hemisphere. Under current plans, the rocket will use a customized Boeing 747 as a combination launch pad, control room, and reusable first stage. The system yields benefits when compared to a standard terrestrial launch, like the shorter distance to the target when launched from altitude, increased weather resilience, and direct-inject orbital flexibility that has yet to be introduced to the Asian market. 

Once in service, ANA will have a unique position as the only air-launch satellite delivery service in Asia, beating recent space startups to market, increasing the level of professional expertise and employment in the area, and bringing in contracts for payload carriage. Demand for satellite launches in Japan and the greater Asian region is growing quickly, according to Koji Shibata, executive vice president at ANA Group. 

“ANA is excited to work with Virgin Orbit to offer responsive launch and space solutions services to customers in Japan. Demand for satellite launches in Japan and Asia is rapidly increasing, and it is hoped that the number of launches will be desired from the customers. Virgin Orbit offers something no other launch company can, and that capability will be extremely valuable to the growing space industry in Japan and throughout the region.”



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