On January 17, Virgin Orbit, the rocket company founded by Sir Richard Branson, successfully put its first satellites into space using its novel air launch system.
"We brought a new technology to space travel," said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart, who joined Cheddar's 'Closing Bell' Friday. "[This] opens up is a whole set of efficiencies and new capabilities of being able to fly out from an airport and get a payload to space."
Wait, airport? Yes, Virgin Orbit implements a novel launch system using a technique it calls air launch, in which a rocket launches under the wing of a jet aircraft, rather than from a more traditional launch pad on the ground. Hart said this gives Virgin Orbit a variety of advantages over competitors.
"There's contention in space right now. The capabilities of mobility to be able to pop up from anywhere in the world and put a spacecraft into orbit is very interesting to the national security sector of the U.S. and our allies as well," he explained.
"It is a gamechanger."
Sir Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin conglomerate, has two space companies. While Virgin Galactic, which debuted on Wall Street in October of 2019, is focused on human space travel, Virgin Orbit flies satellites and spacecraft into space. Hart said satellites will remain his company's focus and explained that the satellites of today are different from the larger satellites many people are more familiar with.
"Satellites that used to be the size of a school bus are now the size of a microwave or a washing machine," he noted.
Hart also explained how NASA is moving to smaller satellites for earth science objectives and some interplanetary work. Virgin Orbit's January 17 launch was a part of NASA's launch service program, and Hart couldn't stop beaming.
"We were just delighted to put up 10 research and experimental spacecraft for them. That was our first revenue-bearing launch, and it was a brilliant success... we will launch with NASA more."
So, what does the future have in store? Hart was confident that the Biden administration will continue to push space forward, and with the influx of companies entering the space arena, Hart provided a bright outlook.
"It's really exciting to see the innovation that's happening across the industry," he said. "We're in a renaissance of space right now."