Virgin Orbit CEO to Asharq Al-Awsat: Sky’s the Limit in Space

Virgin Orbit CEO to Asharq Al-Awsat: Sky’s the Limit in Space

Monday, 9 July, 2018 - 18:00
President and CEO of Virgin Orbit Dan Hart. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Washington - Asharq Al-Awsat
President and CEO of Virgin Orbit Dan Hart stated that the world is now witnessing a major revolution in space capabilities, especially with the drop in costs that can be credited to technological advances.

He also noted that amid the great interest in space by governments and companies, then the future of this new domain is very promising.

Asharq Al-Awsat sat with Hart to discuss the endless potential found in space and Virgin Orbit’s commercial aspirations.

“We transport satellites into orbit. We are a pretty unique launch system in that we make use of a couple of technologies to get satellites into orbit,” he said.

“First of all, we are focused on small satellites because satellites are in a transformative period where they are getting smaller and more capabilities are getting into smaller satellites. We take a rocket up under the wing of a 747 aircraft then we drop it and a few seconds later the rocket ignites, and it takes the rocket to orbit.”

“Whereas most rockets today have big launch pads and radar systems all around them, it allows us to get very closed to what’s been dreamed for space launch which is to be aircraft operation like. Coming off a 747 aircraft, we don’t have the big launch pad or the hundreds of thousands of people that are required, and we can quickly take many satellites into order inexpensively and very flexibly,” he explained.

Asked about Virgin Orbit’s clients, revealed: “Our clients are, first, many commercial companies.”

“What is happening is companies from around the world are developing these small satellites and they can be the size of a refrigerator, the size of a microwave oven, the size of a toaster even. What’s happened with these cellphones is happening with satellites. More capability is getting into smaller packages.”

“What that’s done for businesses is it has allowed them to get into space-based capabilities. Communication, imaging, for much less money that what used to be required. Twenty years ago, you would have needed half a billion dollars to start a space enterprise. Today, it’s less than a tenth of that.”

“Many, many more companies from across the globe are developing small satellites and one of the most important things that they need is customized service for these small satellites to orbit and that’s where we come in,” Hart stressed.

Elaborating on other fields that use Virgin Orbit’s service, he said: “One of the most important areas is what we call remote sensing or imaging. Businesses like farming, oil and gas, environmental evaluation, all need sensing of what’s going on over the globe.”

“There are also a number of companies that are in that part of the business. Also, as we look forward in time and we get into space exploration and things of that nature, there’s a need for sensors and supply to be sent into orbit in the future. We look forward to those days as well.”

“We have a number of telecommunication and satellite companies, we have some imaging, there are some associated with tracking of airplanes and ships so that there’s a knowledge of where they’re going. That’s where most of our customers are. We also have NASA, the Department of Defense has bought a flight, and we expect other governments to want their own sovereign systems,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The sky is the limit at this point, Hart remarked.

“As we see their imaginations—and this is a generation who is used to video coming instantly on their cellphones—as this generation now getting into the industry, they’re going to drive us to have capabilities that we’ve never imagined.”

“As we move now, we can operate freely and transport into space freely, there’s manufacturing in space and mining. There are things you can do when you’re in zero gravity that you can’t do on earth. You can grow crystals in a different way, there are processes that can be used in creating structures and electronics and pharmaceuticals. There are substances that you can create in zero gravity that you can’t create here.”

“There have been discussions for many years about energy, solar energy in space is always available. Could we operate facilities in space and bring energy back to Earth? There’s a whole host of uses for space. This incredible, endless asset that we have. The barriers for transportation are just fundamental to that. That’s what both of our businesses are all about.”

Turning to the Middle East, Hart remarked: “There is a lot going in the Middle East related to space. In the satellite arena, there has been a long heritage of first buying satellite capabilities, learning about them, and now building them. There are real capabilities and we’re anxious and eager to work more and more with these countries.”

Saudi Arabia launched its first homemade satellite in June and Virgin Orbit is keen to be part of that.

“We’ve had discussions with Cask and PIF about capabilities and plans, and we certainly want to participate,” Hart stressed, revealing that Saudi scientists are employed at his company.

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