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Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit to double launch rate next year

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The modified 737 aircraft “Cosmic Girl” lifts off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California carrying a LauncherOne rocket on June 30, 2021.

Virgin Orbit

Sir Richard Branson’s private space venture Virgin Orbit launched its second successful satellite mission this year on Wednesday, with CEO Dan Hart telling CNBC the company now is focused on “ramping up” and expanding operations globally.

“We’re on a really good trajectory to have another flight this year, and then double that cadence and have six flights next year and then increase from there,” Hart said.

Virgin Orbit uses a modified Boeing 747 aircraft as the platform to launch its rockets, rather than from the ground like other companies. Wednesday’s launch – which took off from the California desert and flew to space from above the Pacific Ocean – marked the company’s first commercial launch, as the prior two launches were demonstration missions.

The company currently flies out of the Mojave Air and Space Port in California and has agreements in place to launch from the island of Guam and Cornwall in the United Kingdom. Virgin Orbit is also working with “other countries” on agreements, Hart said, including Japan, Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

“We can turn any airport into a spaceport,” Hart said.

Virgin Orbit’s approach to launching rockets is “completely and utterly unique” compared to its ground-based rocket-building competitors, Branson said. The company aims to be capable of responding to a customer’s launch request within 24 hours, which Branson says is a need he’s talked about with leaders in the U.S., U.K. and Canadian militaries.

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“If countries wanted to store rockets for future crises in the world, we will just build the capacity and do exactly that,” Branson said.

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