Virgin Orbit in Mojave
Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket, mated to its Boeing 747 aircraft and with support equipment nearby, on the flight line at Mojave Air and Space Port in California. A first orbital launch will take place in the "coming weeks," CEO Dan Hart said Feb. 4. Credit: Virgin Orbit
Bridge ventilator prototypes. Credit: Virgin Orbit

WASHINGTON — Space launch provider Virgin Orbit announced it has developed a mass-producible bridge ventilator prototype for COVID-19 patients.

Virgin Orbit, based in Long Beach, California, worked with the Bridge Ventilator Consortium on the ventilator design, the company said in a March 30 news release. The consortium is led by the University of California Irvine and the University of Texas at Austin.

High-end, ICU-capable ventilators are in short supply as the pandemic worsened in recent weeks. The bridge ventilators can be used to help free up the more advanced ventilators for the most critical patients.

“Pending clearance by the Food and Drug Administration, Virgin Orbit aims to commence production at its Long Beach manufacturing facility in early April,” Virgin Orbit said.

“On a normal day, we’re building rockets and other equipment for space launch; we are not medical doctors nor are we usually manufacturers of medical devices. But we do have a team of incredibly innovative and agile thinkers,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart.

The company said it can scale up production at its Long Beach facility, and potentially increase manufacturing capacity as soon as the new device is reproducible and production-ready.

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 two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...