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Virgin Orbit selected to bring orbital launch capabilities to Brazil

(28 April 2021 - Virgin Orbit) The Brazilian Space Agency (Agência Espacial Brasileira; AEB) and Brazilian Air Force (Força Aérea Brasileira, FAB) announced today that Virgin Orbit has been selected to bring orbital launch capability to Brazil, a country which has never successfully completed a domestic launch to orbit.

Thanks to the unique mobility and small footprint of Virgin Orbit’s air-launched system architecture, launches to a wide range of orbital inclinations could quickly become possible without the need for new permanent infrastructure, nor the expansion of existing facilities.

Launches would occur from the Alcântara Launch Center (Centro de Lançamento de Alcântara, CLA) on Brazil's northern coast, located just two degrees south of the equator. Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system, which uses a customized 747 aircraft as its flying launch pad and fully reusable first stage, could conduct launches from the existing airbase at the site, flying hundreds of miles before releasing the rocket directly above the equator or at other locations optimized for each individual mission. The approach enables Alcântara to become one of the only continental spaceports in the world capable of reaching any orbital inclination.

Since construction of the facility began in 1982, Alcântara has hosted dozens of launches of uncrewed, suborbital sounding rockets — but the facility has not yet been used to reach orbit. By bringing that long-sought capability to Alcântara, Virgin Orbit, AEB, and FAB will create an important new capability for the region while delivering on the promised economic value of the site for the local quilombo communities. All of the equipment required for Virgin Orbit to conduct a launch to orbit is fully transportable, from the ground vehicles that prepare the rocket for flight to the rocket and aircraft itself — meaning that the team can securely transport the entire system in, conduct a launch campaign, and return to one of the company’s other facilities without requiring any further construction beyond the airbase.

LauncherOne’s first flight from the facility would transform Alcântara into the second orbital-class spaceport in all of South America, and only the fifth in the entire Southern Hemisphere.

Since the beginning of his term, the President of AEB, Carlos Moura, has stated that making the Alcântara Launch Center a reference for space activities in Brazil and in the world is at the center of the priorities of the Brazilian space program. “Alcântara is one of the most ideal places in the world for launching rockets. It is close to the equator, which increases the launcher's payload capacity, and allows a wide range of azimuths for launches, with access to all orbits. When we put the Center into operation, we will overcome a historic challenge for the program, which means a commitment to Brazil and the world community towards ever greater achievements for humanity,” he said.

“The people of Brazil have been patiently and diligently working towards orbital launch for many years now, and it will be a tremendous honor to help make that vision a domestic reality,” said Dan Hart, the CEO of Virgin Orbit. “Space launch will bring a key capability to the nation and to the space community, while helping address the long-standing needs of the local community. There’s really no better place on the planet than Alcântara for an equatorial launch site. And with hundreds of miles of cross range on our flying launch pad, the potential is boundless. We’re eager to work with our colleagues at AEB and FAB to bring this vital new capability to Alcântara.”

About Virgin Orbit

Virgin Orbit builds and operates the most flexible and responsive satellite launcher ever invented: LauncherOne, a dedicated launch service for commercial and government-built small satellites. LauncherOne rockets are designed and manufactured in Long Beach, California, and are air-launched from our modified 747-400 carrier aircraft — allowing us to operate from locations all over the world in order to best serve each customer’s needs.