ANA Holdings, the owners of Japan’s largest airline, ANA, have announced that it has entered into a memorandum of understanding (“MOU”) with Virgin Orbit, the responsive launch and space solutions company that has announced a planned business combination with NextGen Acquisition Corp. II, and plans to procure twenty flights of the LauncherOne rocket and to lead the effort to provide funds and support for those orbital missions to launch from Japan’s Oita Prefecture.
The terms of the MOU call for ANA HOLDINGS and several of its partners to fund the manufacturing of a new set of the mobile ground support equipment used to prepare Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system for flight from a pre-existing runway, with a target of making Oita a LauncherOne-ready spaceport by as soon as the end of 2022, pending appropriate regulatory approvals in the United States and Japan.
Japan’s impressive aerospace industry has long been at the forefront of satellite technology innovation. However, the available launch services in Japan -and throughout all of Asia – have always been launched from fixed sites on the ground. Supported by ANA’s premier logistics and transport services, Virgin Orbit is set to change that by bringing air-launch to the Eastern Hemisphere for the first time in history.
By using a customized 747 as its flying launch pad, mobile mission control, and fully re-usable first stage, LauncherOne gains a substantial performance boost over a similarly sized ground-launched system. Additionally, the airplane’s ability to cover large distances between taking off and releasing the rocket provides both weather resiliency and direct-inject orbital flexibility that until now, has never been available on the Asian market.
Virgin Orbit’s flight-proven air-launch service provides a unique capability for ANA’s customer base in the booming commercial ecosystem for space in Asia. The number of space start-ups in Japan has increased since 2015, driven by increasing level of investment and government activities to energize and accelerate the private sector. The increasing amount of funding and investment in the space industry has encouraged start-ups to venture into space businesses, and legacy companies to expand their offerings – and launch is a critical enabler for those businesses and their future growth.