Why Virgin Orbit Is Paying a High Price for Their Unique Launch Capability

19th Oct 2020
Virgin Orbit

Colorado-based rocket launching company, Virgin Orbit, endeavours to become a top player in the US aeronautical sector. CEO, Eric Hart, claims his mission is to build efficient and affordable SmallSat launcher vehicles.

Virgin Orbit emerged from Virgin Galactica, a subsidiary of the Virgin corporation founded by Sir Richard Branson. The initial idea was to create a space bus to take people on lunar and interplanetary tours. A few years later, the scheme took a commercial turn, and the crafts became intended to serve as couriers for satellites.

The challenge arises in achieving a competitive edge in the industry. Currently, multiple players are striving to come up with the most cost-effective solution for space travel. 

Competitors, such as SpaceX and Rocket Lab, are also involved in contracts to develop innovative and cheaper rocket technology and they are spending much less in comparison to Virgin Orbit. The hefty operational costs, combined with the failed launch trials, can be financially devastating. 

The Launch Test Details

Virgin Orbit is ascribed for bringing us the LauncherOne. However, to date, it has never had a successful launch. Having failed once already, the firm’s officials are still confident in another trial.

The company is believed to have spent close to $700 million in the designing and production of LauncherOne and critics are skeptical of the practicality of continuing with these costly efforts.

The initial test was carried out towards the end of May 2020. The Boeing 747 carrier craft, Cosmic Girl, launched successfully. But when the rocket was launched from its wing the high-powered engine shut off after a few moments of glory due to a lack of oxidizing agents. A future attempt to launch is scheduled for late 2020. Will Virgin Orbit be able to pull it off? We just have to wait and see.

Competitor Activity

Virgin Orbit is determined to carve a niche in the US space sector. However, rival companies are adopting equally-aggressive strategies  in order to gain an edge in the cosmic marketplace.

Players such as Rocket Lab and SpaceX have made numerous efforts to develop cheaper alternatives. For instance, the Falcon 1 spacecraft by SpaceX is comparably as good as Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne, if not better.

Speculation about the company’s return on investment remains high, considering how high their expenses are. Virgin Orbit, however, boasts of having the unique capability to carry out horizontal launches, therefore meaning there is no need to build any kind of structure to support their rockets.

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