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Virgin Galactic's LauncherOne small satellite service becomes separate company

Virgin Galactic's LauncherOne small satellite service becomes separate company
Virgin Orbit President Dan Hart, right, and Galactic Ventures Chief Executive George Whitesides, left, are photographed at Virgin Orbit's Long Beach facility. (Christina House / For The Times) (Christina House / Christina House)

Virgin Galactic's small satellite launch division is now its own company.

Known as Virgin Orbit, the Long Beach company will be focused on developing LauncherOne, a satellite-launching rocket that will be dropped from the wing of a Boeing 747.

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Virgin Orbit will be led by former Boeing Co. executive Dan Hart, who previously served as Boeing's vice president of government satellite systems.

"I've been through a lot of different space programs … and the most fun I have is when you're driving with a team of enormous talent towards a milestone that's going to have an impact on the world," Hart said. "The team here is on exactly that kind of pursuit."

Virgin Galactic is building a ship that will take paying tourists on a suborbital ride to space.

Virgin Orbit's operations are geared specifically toward the small satellite market.

New technology has driven down the price of building and launching a satellite, and a number of companies, including SpaceX in Hawthorne and OneWeb in Arlington, Va., have proposed constellations of small satellites to provide broadband and communication capabilities across the globe.

"You see both in plans and in reality these truly spectacular numbers of satellites, far exceeding what's been launched in the past," said George Whitesides, chief executive of Virgin Group's commercial space portfolio Galactic Ventures, which includes Virgin Orbit, Virgin Galactic and the Spaceship Co. "The size of the market and the ability for this team to really focus on that is something that encouraged us to say, 'Now's the time to have this dedicated entity.'"

Virgin Orbit is aiming for the first test flight of LauncherOne by the end of this year.

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