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Virgin Orbit Will Take the First Dutch Defense Satellite to Space

Virgin Orbit will launch the Dutch Ministry of Defense's first satellite into space later this year. It comes over a week after the Long Beach-based company successfully placed satellites from its LauncherOne rocket into orbit for the first time.

The company announced Monday it had been selected by the Dutch space engineering company Innovative Solutions in Space to propel the Royal Netherlands Air Force's first satellite, BRIK II, into space.


Senior business development associate Bret Perry said the partnership has been discussed over the past few years — the Dutch Ministry of Defense is a very active member in the Responsive Space Capabilities Memorandum of Understanding, and Virgin Orbit hosted members of the Royal Netherlands Air Force Team at their factory in 2019.

The BRIK-II will be a test for communications experiments and military operations uses, and since there will be extra room on the launch, the small satellite will be accompanied by U.S. Department of Defense payloads.

Rideshares in this context are still fairly unusual, said Virgin Orbit spokesperson Kendall Russell. However, as satellites get smaller and launching gets cheaper, he believes we'll see even more international collaboration, particularly as the private and commercial launch markets grow.

Virgin Orbit will also be utilizing "late-load" integration, meaning the company will add its payload to the rocket right before launch. Though this integration isn't necessary, as there is enough lead time, Virgin Orbit is hoping to demonstrate its capabilities for future launches.

According to Perry, the standard lead time is about 30 days, but satellite operators in commercial and government communities often need much shorter lead times.

"I can already foresee the day when we will take off from a runway on Dutch soil and deliver RNLAF satellites to space directly. LauncherOne's unique air launch capability is filling a gap for government space missions — mobility and responsiveness are sorely needed to disincentivize aggression in space at a time when we rely more and more on a threatened space infrastructure," said Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit's chief executive officer, in a statement.

Virgin Orbit successfully completed a second launch test of its LauncherOne rocket a week ago, following a failed launch eight months earlier. Its competitors include Rocket Lab and Firefly Aerospace, companies that also use launches from mid air to send satellites to space.

According to the Virgin Orbit website, the company also has launches booked by customers including the UK Royal Air Force, Swarm Technologies, Denmark's GomSpace and Italy's SITAEL.

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Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.

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