Virgin Orbit has signed a launch services agreement with Japanese earth observation constellation operator Institute for Q-shu Pioneers of Space, Inc. (“iQPS”). The satellite is expected to join Virgin Orbit’s manifest for early 2023.
Selected for LauncherOne’s proven ability to provide direct access to diverse orbits, Virgin Orbit expects to launch the QPS-SAR-5 satellite into a tailored mid-inclination orbit to allow iQPS to expand the coverage of its constellation and revisit rate. By directly injecting the QPS-SAR-5 into the desired orbit on iQPS’s schedule, LauncherOne’s flexibility should allow for iQPS to rapidly commission the QPS-SAR-5 and begin collecting information from areas of key interest to its customers.
The iQPS QPS-SAR-5 to be launched by Virgin Orbit is expected to play a critical role in enabling near real-time earth observation by iQPS’s Synthetic Aperture Radar (“SAR”) constellation. iQPS enables the development of small, high-performance SAR satellites by employing a unique deployable antenna that is large, yet easy to stow and weighs only 10 kg. It is also capable of penetrating clouds and collecting high-resolution images even in adverse weather conditions, enabling frequent and important earth observation missions. iQPS is planning to establish a constellation of 36 satellites that enable the observation of particular locations almost everywhere in the world in around 10 minutes or every 10 minutes to a fixed area for observation. Additionally, iQPS has succeeded in acquiring 70 cm resolution images with QPS-SAR-2, and subsequent satellites including QPS-SAR-5 are expected to achieve even higher resolution.
Virgin Orbit demonstrated its ability to reach unique orbital inclinations during its January 2022 mission “Above the Clouds,” in which the company’s air-launcher system “LauncherOne” and its carrier aircraft “Cosmic Girl” deployed seven customer satellites to 500 km circular orbit at 45 degrees inclination after taking off from Mojave Air and Spaceport in Mojave, California – a first for the launch industry.
“Virgin Orbit is grateful for the opportunity to work with such an innovator as iQPS. The iQPS team is on the cutting edge of space technology and their products are critically needed to provide new capabilities for: disaster prevention, infrastructure management, agriculture, marine/fishery, and the realization of autonomous driving,” remarked Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart. “Coupled with LauncherOne, trailblazing operators like iQPS can tailor their launch needs around their mission, and not the other way around, serving their customers from the outset.”
iQPS Inc. CEO Shunsuke Onishi said: “Following our launch announcements regarding QPS-SAR-3 and 4, we looked forward to presenting our plans for QPS-SAR-5. We all are very pleased and honored to be working with Virgin Orbit. In Japan, Oita Prefecture and Virgin Orbit have announced a partnership in April 2020 to launch satellites after 2022 from the Oita Airport Spaceport, and plans are currently underway. The founders of iQPS, who started the company with the goal of establishing a space industry in Kyushu, have a strong passion to ‘launch satellites manufactured in Kyushu from Kyushu’. We hope that this launch agreement between Virgin Orbit and iQPS will be a positive step toward the early realization of the Oita Spaceport.”