June 6, 2019
By Sam Nussey
TOKYO (Reuters) – Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit said on Thursday it plans to bring its satellite launch system to Japan in partnership with airline operator ANA Holdings Inc, which will provide maintenance and possibly aircraft.
Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system is undergoing testing with the aim of launching rockets bearing small satellites into space from a modified jumbo jet. The company said it will conduct its first orbital test flight later this year.
Branson’s space ventures, however, have a history of delays, with his space tourism company Virgin Galactic running more than a decade behind the schedule originally promised by the British billionaire.
Virgin Orbit and ANA Holdings, parent of All Nippon Airways, in a joint statement said they will identify a launch site together with Space Port Japan, an industry-backed body which aims to turn Japan into a space business hub.
The space venture has already announced launch sites in the United States, Guam, Britain and Italy.
Japan’s space industry spans large scale government-backed rocket launches by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd – which launched the Michibiki satellite navigation system – to Interstellar Technologies, a startup backed by internet entrepreneur Takufumi Horie that last month launched its first rocket to reach space.
(Reporting by Sam Nussey; Editing by Christopher Cushing)