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Air launch of LauncherOne
An artist’s conception shows Virgin Orbit’s carrier airplane, Cosmic Girl, deploying a LauncherOne rocket for a high-altitude orbital launch. (Virgin Galactic Illustration)

Virgin Galactic says it’s spinning off its satellite launch operation, including the LauncherOne rocket development program, as a new commercial space company called Virgin Orbit.

The newly created company’s first president, Dan Hart, comes to the job from the Boeing Co., where he most recently served as vice president of government satellite systems.

“I’m thrilled that our small-satellite launch service has now progressed to the point it merits the formation of its own company, Virgin Orbit, and a new president in Dan with decades of deep experience and success in a broad variety of space programs,” Virgin Group founder Richard Branson said today in a news release.

Virgin Group now has three companies in its commercial space portfolio, which is known as Galactic Ventures:

  • Virgin Galactic, which focuses on human spaceflight services. It’s based in Mojave, Calif., for flight testing, and aims to conduct commercial space tours out of Spaceport America in New Mexico.
  • The Spaceship Company, which is headquartered in Mojave and focuses on the design, manufacture and testing of aerospace vehicles such as SpaceShipTwo and its twin-fuselage White Knight Two carrier airplane.
  • Virgin Orbit, which focuses on the small-satellite launch services that will be provided by LauncherOne and its Cosmic Girl carrier airplane, a modified Boeing 747 jet.

Virgin Orbit is headquartered in a 180,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Long Beach, Calif., where more than 200 employees are working on LauncherOne and Cosmic Girl. Test launches could start as early as this year, and the company already has a substantial waiting list for orbital launches.

Dan Hart
Dan Hart. (Virgin Orbit Photo)

Hart said he was thrilled to be joining the Virgin team.

“In 34 years at Boeing, I’ve had the honor to work on some of the most iconic and successful space programs in history, including the space shuttle, the Delta launch program and satellite systems that have connected the world and protected our nation,” he said in a statement.

Heading Virgin Orbit will be the “perfect next challenge,” Hart said.

Hart joins a team that also includes Virgin Galactic President Mike Moses, a former NASA shuttle launch manager; The Spaceship Company’s chairman, Doug Shane, who’s a veteran of the SpaceShipOne development program at Scaled Composites; and Enrico Palermo, who has just been named The Spaceship Company’s executive vice president and general manager.

Galactic Ventures’ CEO, George T. Whitesides, said the updated organizational structure “positions each Virgin space company to achieve its full potential while remaining true to our shared purpose of opening space to all.”

Galactic Ventures is majority-owned by Virgin Group – but Aabar Investments PJS, a venture firm based in Abu Dhabi, holds a minority stake.

Virgin Orbit team
The Virgin Orbit team gathers at its facility in Long Beach, Calif. (Virgin Orbit Photo)
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