- Laurence Russell
Virgin Orbit establishes Brazilian subsidiary and operator’s license for launch in Alcântara
Virgin Orbit alongside the Brazilian Space Agency (Agência Espacial Brasileira; AEB) is pleased to announce that Virgin Orbit has been formally granted an operator’s license to allow LauncherOne launch operations in Brazil. The license is granted to Virgin Orbit Brasil Ltda. (VOBRA), a newly formed and wholly owned Brazilian subsidiary dedicated to bringing the LauncherOne air-launch rocket system to the Alcântara Launch Center (Centro de Lançamento de Alcântara, CLA).
The formation of the VOBRA entity for dedicated Brazilian space activities is designed to bring an important new capability to the country and economic value to the region. Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system, which uses a customized 747 aircraft, Cosmic Girl, as its flying and fully reusable launch pad, will conduct launches from the existing airbase at the Brazilian site, flying hundreds of miles before releasing the rocket directly above the equator — a global sweet spot — or at other optimal locations identified for each individual mission.
Virgin Orbit’s launch system is expected to give Alcântara the opportunity to become one of the only continental spaceports in the world functionally capable of reaching any orbital inclination. All of the equipment required for Virgin Orbit to conduct a launch to orbit is fully transportable, from the rocket, to the ground assets that prepare it for flight, as well as the aircraft itself. This capability enables the team to securely transport the entire system, conduct a launch campaign, and return to one of the company’s other facilities without the need for any further construction beyond the Brazilian airbase.
The Alcântara Launch Center has hosted several launches of suborbital rockets, but the facility has not yet been used to reach Earth orbit. By facilitating the introduction of that long-sought capability to Alcântara, Virgin Orbit, AEB, and the Brazilian Air Force (Força Aérea Brasileira, FAB) hope to create a significant new competency for the area.
Upon fulfilment of all formalities required by the FAB and completion of all CLA guidelines, LauncherOne could potentially conduct the first domestic orbital-class launch to Brazil as early as 2023. “We are very excited to bring orbital launch capability to Brazil,” said Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit. “Our small footprint and unique mobile LauncherOne system allow us to work with the country in accomplishing its first ever domestic launch to Earth orbit, while accessing an array of orbital inclinations just two degrees south of the equator, and without the need for new permanent infrastructure. Leveraging the existing facilities at Alcântara Space Center is important to us in our commitment to sustainability and effort to open Space For Good. We’re keen on working together to take on the upcoming possibilities.”
"Virgin Orbit is an outstanding space transport provider, very suitable for prompt and dedicated small sat launches,” said Carlos Moura, President of the Brazilian Space Agency. “We do believe Virgin Orbit can improve its capacities by taking off from the Alcantara Spaceport. Nice weather, wonderful airfield, free airspace, and proficient tracking systems. Together, we can do much more.”