Virgin Orbit to launch Royal Netherlands Air Force’s first satellite

On the heals of their first successful launch into orbit earlier this month, Virgin Orbit has been selected to send a new payload for the Royal Netherlands Royal Air Force called BRIK-II, a payload named after the their first airplane.

Virgin Orbit, the commercial smallsat launcher of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group company, has had a busy couple of months with two launch attempts and one of them being their first success. Now they move to fill their 2021 launch manifest with customer payloads as they come online as an operational launch provider.

BRIK-II, the Royal Netherlands Air Force’s first satellite, is planning to launch this year as the primary payload of a rideshare launch from Mojave Air and Space Port in California. It will demonstrate communication equipment and how smallsats like this one can be proven useful in the military. This is many militaries across the globe, including the U.S. Space Force, are interested in doing since smallsats are cheaper to build and easier to replace.

In owner of the first aircraft owned by the Royal Netherland Air Force, Brik, the satellites will be named BRIK-II. Courtesy: Dutch Ministry of Defense

“Being able to launch our very first satellite is a major milestone for the RNLAF and the Dutch joint force as a whole. We are on a pathway to developing space capabilities as part of a yet to be released MoD Space Strategy. As set out in our latest Defense White Paper, we would like to develop our Joint ISR capabilities in space alongside our allies and partners. Being able to share this major milestone with Virgin Orbit’s development of responsive launch capability is second to none. We feel privileged to take this step and look forward to what the future has to offer.”

Lt. Gen Dennis Luyt, RNLAF commander

Virgin Orbit will be demonstrating a new process for this launch which is called “late loading”, a method that involves payload loading onto the vehicle just before launch. This is an extremely valuable capability to have for payloads that need to be stored under certain conditions for as long as possible before launch.

Currently, Virgin Orbit’s subsidiary VOX Space is looking to obtain satellites from the U.S. Space Force Space Test Program to fill the spots of the secondary payloads.

Royal Netherland Air Force’s first satellites BRIK-II

While this launch will operate out of Mojave, California, Virgin Orbit’s air-launch system has the capability of taking off and launching out of most commercial airports. Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart mentioned the possibility of future missions with the Dutch that could operate out of runways in the Netherlands.

“We’re so honored to be supporting the RNLAF by providing this first launch, and we’re looking forward to seeing the Netherlands and the U.S. find mutual benefit from leveraging our uniquely flexible and mobile launch system. 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.”

Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit CEO

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