Virgin Orbit selects RAF pilot as it plans satellite launch program

Oct. 4 (UPI) — Virgin Orbit, a private company planning launches of orbital satellites, announced that a Royal Air Force pilot will join its team.

Flight Lt. Mathew Stannard will join the Virgin Orbit program in a three-year contract. He will be one of the company’s pilots in the trials of Boeing 747-400 aircraft from which satellites will be launched. The announcement was made on Thursday in California.

Stannard is currently a Typhoon pilot with the RAF’s test an evaluation squadrons.

Virgin Orbit has a business relationship with the RAF and the U.S. Air Force in demonstrating the utility of launching small satellites by means other than traditional vertical rockets.

The first “air launch” of a rocket and satellite is planned for the autumn. Last week the first rocket, LauncherOne, was taken from the company’s manufacturing facility in Long Beach, Calif., to its Mojave Desert launch station. The rocket will be attached beneath the Boeing 747, first for a test flight and then a separation for travel of one orbit.

“In about six weeks, eight weeks, we will be firing the engines on the next drop test and heading at eighteen and a half thousand miles per hour around the Earth in orbit, beginning to drop off satellites,” Sir Richard Branson, company founder, said last week.

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