Virgin Orbit, a small satellite launch company, is seeking to raise more money as it looks to target the industry,media reported. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Long Beach, California-based space launch orbit carrier hopes to raise as much as $200 million through private financing. A successful capital raising would raise the start-up’s total market valuation to $1bn. It will also allow it to start launching payloads similar to NASA’s upcoming mission to put 10 small satellites into orbit.
Companies such as Virgin Orbital, Firefly Aerospace, PlanetLabs and Vector Launch plan to launch smaller and lighter payloads into orbit than SpaceX’s medium-lift Falcon 9 carrier lineup. Their launch vehicle for this purpose is similar in specification to the Hawthorne-based company’s Falcon 1 rocket, which made its debut four years after SpaceX was registered.
Unlike falcon 1, however, Virgin Orbital’s Launcher One launch vehicle does not use its engine for liftoff. Instead, it was launched by a modified Boeing 747 aircraft, known as “Cosmic Girl.” The deployment is similar to that used by Virgin Galactic, Virgin Atlantic’s sister company, SpaceShip One, which brings cargo, crew and passengers to the Carmen Line. Virgin Orbital initially intended to launch LauncherOne from SpaceShip Two, but later abandoned the approach because of the rocket’s maturity.
NASA’s 10 small satellites will be The First Payload Launch of The One, and Virgin Orbiter has a longer schedule for the mission. The company’s request to the FCC for the use of S-band receivers on aircraft requires a six-month window to be opened in September.
If Virgin completes the capital operation and reaches a valuation of $1 billion, it will be about half the amount SpaceX has recently raised. Elon Musk’s unicorn rocket startup completed its biggest round of financing to date in August. As a result, the company sold all of its $2 billion stake, and the current round of financing generated almost twice as much money as SpaceX had raised from such a previous offering in 2015.
Once Virgin Orbital begins launching with LaucherOne, it will be able to launch small satellites with multiple functions. These features range from imaging to Internet communications — a market that has also experienced new competition since SpaceX regularly launched Starlink.
In addition to Starlink, Jeff Bezos-backed Kuiper and OneWeb have aggressive plans to launch small satellites to provide internet connectivity. Kuiper is supposed to launch its spacecraft on a Blue Origin launch vehicle, while OneWeb already uses SpaceX’s Falcon 9 medium launch vehicle for launch missions.
Before Virgin Orbital split in 2017, its predecessors, Virgin Galactic and OneWeb, signed an agreement in 2015 to launch satellites from internet providers. The agreement covers 39 launches on The LaucherOne and has an option to allow up to 100 additional launches. OneWeb has launched 68 operational satellites so far, far behind SpaceX’s Starlink constellation.
OneWeb’s banks LionTree Advisors LLC and Perella Weinberg Partners LP have raised $150 million to $200 million by the end of the year. The proceeds will be used to finance satellite launches and to bear capital expenditures.