- Virgin Orbit could launch satellites into space from Australia in 2024, based on its new partnership with Wagner Corporation, owner of the Toowoomba Wellcamp airport and business park in Queensland, from where the operations would be carried out.
Both companies are studying the possibility of certifying the air terminal as a national spaceport and thus be able to carry out a first orbital launch demonstration within sixteen or eighteen months.
The two companies aim to boost Australia’s promising market for small satellites and other space solutions, “in order to stimulate local economic growth.” In addition, enabling the airport for this type of operation would provide the country with a more flexible launch capacity, according to Virgin Orbit in a press release.
Initially, the work will focus on adapting the launch operations of LauncherOne, the rocket carried by the Boeing 747-400 of the Virgin Group’s space division, from Toowoomba Wellcamp. The ultimate goal is to meet the requirements of the Australian regulatory authorities.
In this way, Virgin Orbit and Wagner Corporation will develop a roadmap to analyze the infrastructure works necessary to achieve certification of the airport to serve as a departure point for orbital launch flights. If completed, Toowoomba Wellcamp would become the main center of innovation for the Australian space industry.
Virgin Orbit is the first company to exploit the “airdrop” concept commercially. The company uses a modified Boeing 747-400 to carry the LauncherOne rocket up to an altitude of approximately 40,000 feet. From there, the vector launches and begins its journey into outer space.
The aircraft, registered N744VG and named Cosmic Girl, is the only one of its kind in service in the world. It has already completed three commercial launches and successfully placed twenty-six satellites into orbit for various customers. The company plans to make the first orbital launch from the United Kingdom at the end of 2022.