This is an artist's rendering of a cluster of cubesats and small satellites sent in orbit on a Russian Soyuz rocket by Exolaunch, the German launch services provider formerly known as ECM-Space. Credit: Exolaunch

COLORADO SPRINGS – German launch services provider Exolaunch announced a memorandum of understanding April 11 with Virgin Orbit to send satellites into space as early as 2020 on LauncherOne dedicated and rideshare missions.

“Virgin Orbit and EXOLAUNCH share a core belief in customer experience and viable launch services,” Jeanne Medvedeva, Exolaunch Launch Services Commercial Director, said in a statement. “For our small satellite customers predominantly from Europe, Virgin Orbit will provide frequent and easy access to … a wide range of orbits. We will provide diverse smallsat clusters adapted through our separation systems to the upcoming missions of LauncherOne.”

Exolaunch, a spinoff of the Technical University of Berlin formerly called ECM-Space, has arranged launches, managed missions and integrated small satellite rideshare clusters for customers in Europe and North America. Exolaunch customers include startups, universities, scientific institutions and space agencies. In 2019, Exolaunch is under contract to send more than 60 small satellites into orbit. Forty of those satellites are scheduled to fly together on a Russian Soyuz rocket this spring or summer.

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne is designed to send payloads of up to 500 kilograms into orbit from rockets air-launched from a 747 carrier aircraft. The company performed its first LauncherOne captive carry flight in November. At the time, company officials said they planned to send satellites into orbit in early 2019.

“Virgin Orbit and Exolaunch are naturally aligned in our ambitions to launch the global small satellite revolution, which necessitates low-cost, high-frequency access to space,” Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit CEO, said in a statement. “Europe is on the cutting edge of science and technology when it comes to small satellites. We’re very motivated to provide our unique launch capabilities to this rapidly growing market.”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...