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Virgin Orbit CEO Hart: Smallsat launchers need governments as anchor customers

Dan Hart: “The only thing that we don’t want government to do is to create large monopolies that stifle innovation.”
Virgin Orbit captive carry
Virgin Orbit's "Cosmic Girl" 747 aircraft, with a LauncherOne rocket attached, performs a final captive carry flight April 12 before the company's first orbital launch attempt. Credit: Virgin Orbit

WASHINGTON — Providers of small satellite launch services need governments to invest in a diversity of companies and to avoid creating monopolies, Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said Nov. 10.

Speaking on a panel at Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week Virtual Edition conference, Hart said the industry needs governments to be “anchor customers” to give the industry stability.

“Government is a natural partner,” he said. “The key is for government to be a smart buyer, look at systems that fulfill requirements and also fuel innovation,” Hart added. “The only thing that we don’t want government to do is to create large monopolies that stifle innovation.”

Virgin Orbit is among dozens of smallsat launch providers that are jockeying for position in a tough market. The company has won U.S. military contracts and is marketing its services to other nations’ governments.

One of the problems for the industry is that there is a larger supply of smallsat launchers than there is demand for services. Another daunting competitive challenge for smallsat launchers is that large launch vehicles are marketing rideshare services to the smallsat industry as a more cost effective alternative to small vehicles.

So far the only successful smallsat launch provider with steady business is Rocket Lab. Virgin Orbit has yet to reach orbit with its LauncherOne. Hart said the company is hoping to have a successful orbital flight before the end of the year. 

LauncherOne is deployed from a modified Boeing 747. A launch attempt on May 25 failed to reach orbit. Once its vehicle starts flying, Virgin Orbit wants to set up LauncherOne operations at multiple locations, including on the island of Guam in the Pacific Ocean. 

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly...