Satnews Daily
December 20th, 2018

Guam a Possible Launch Site for Virgin Orbit

According to the Guam Daily Post, Virgin Orbit (owned by billionaire British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson) is in talks with the Guam International Airport Authority (GIAA) to launch commercial satellites into space from Guam.

GIAA Executive Manager Chuck Ada confirms that the airport “has been engaged in talks with representatives of (the) company since March of this year.”

Separately, the airport authority has been working with the Honolulu District Office of the Federal Aviation Administration to obtain a commercial spaceport license. According to the FAA, a commercial spaceport license is required for “the operation of any launch or reentry site ... by any individual or entity within the United States.”

Virgin Orbit was formed in 2017 to develop the ‘LauncherOne’ rocket. The company is based in Long Beach, California, and has more than 300 employees. Company president Dan Hart is a former VP of Government Satellite systems at Boeing.

Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl 737 with Launcher One below the port wing. Image is courtesy of the company.

What Virgin Orbit plans to do is place a small satellite in its ‘LauncherOne’ rocket and attach the rocket to the underside of a Boeing 747’s wing named 'Cosmic Girl." The plane would then climb to a certain altitude and launch the rocket into space where the satellite would be deployed.

Guam has attracted Virgin Orbit’s interest because it is close to the equator. The Virgin Orbit website includes a graphic showing three launch sites: one is in the Mojave Desert to be used to place satellites into a polar orbit, another launch site is in Florida that would launch satellites into MEO, and a third site listed only as “an island in the Pacific” to be used for satellites intended for LEO or for orbit around the equator.

We’re hoping,” said GIAA's Ada, "that Virgin Orbit will establish a presence at the Guam airport. That could mean leasing a terminal and basing their launch plane here. We’re doing environmental feasibility studies at this point and submission of the spaceport application to the FAA is still about three months away. Approval by the FAA could take another six months."

Ada declined to speculate on the financial impact and said no final agreement has been reached as of this writing.