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Virgin Orbit – Cosmic Girl Virgin Orbit’s Boeing 747, named Cosmic Girl, releases LauncherOne mid-air for the first time during a July 2019 drop test. © Crown copyright 2019 – Ministry of Defence

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US and UK Space Project Develops

Virgin Orbit and the RAF are developing a project to launch satellites from a modified Boeing 747

Published on October 03, 2019

Further developments have been announced as part of a landmark project between US company Virgin Orbit and the UK's RAF to launch small satellites into space. The Transatlantic partnership, which was announced in July 2019, is part of Programme ARTEMIS, which is being delivered by a new transatlantic team of UK and US defence personnel and industry partners including Virgin Orbit. The work between Virgin Orbit and the RAF relates to a mechanism for launching small satellites into orbit via a modified Boeing 747.

Flt. Lt. Mathew Stannard Flight Lieutenant Mathew Stannard in front of a 41 Test and Evaluation Squadron Typhoon in a Hardened Aircraft Shelter at 3 (Fighter) Squadron at RAF Coningsby, on the 27 September 2019.© Crown copyright 2019 – Ministry of Defence

The big news from the announcement - which was made in California on board the RMS Queen Mary, Churchill's Floating HQ during WWII - is that RAF Flight Lieutenant Mathew ‘Stanny’ Stannard has been selected to join the fleet of expert ‘test pilots’ trialling the Boeing 747-400 aircraft. Discussing the opportunity, Flt. Lt. Stannard said "I’ve flown Tornado and Typhoon fighter jets in the RAF but being involved in Virgin Orbit’s space programme is a truly unique opportunity ... This programme is pushing the boundaries of our understanding of space so it’s a real privilege to be part of it and I’m looking forward to bringing the skills and knowledge I gain back to the RAF."

Virgin Orbit's CEO, Dan Hart, commented on the significance of the Transatlantic partnership in the project's development: "As an American Company with British ownership and a company guided by Sir Richard Branson, a truly legendary British entrepreneur, it is perhaps within our DNA to help the United Kingdom and the United States collaborate in space ... As part of Team ARTEMIS, we’ve been working with the RAF and the US Air Force to demonstrate the utility of small satellites and responsive, resilient space launch and operations. We are thrilled to welcome Flight Lt. Mathew Stannard to our team of hugely talented pilots where I know his presence will move us further, faster and to new heights."

Air Vice-Marshal Rochelle, the RAF Air Capability Chief of Staff, said; "It’s great news that the RAF can now confirm the secondment of Flight Lieutenant Stannard to the Virgin Orbit team. This move comes through our close collaboration and formal partnership with Virgin Orbit within Team ARTEMIS ... Having one of our Test Pilots working at the heart of such a cutting-edge programme is a significant step in the RAF’s space journey. It also reinforces the close relationship we have with industry and with the US, we expect this to further enable UK satellite launch capabilities."

Echoing the importance of the Special Relationship, UK Defence Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP said that "The UK and the US already have an incredibly close defence relationship and now we’re working together to forge new frontiers in space ... This exciting partnership will see Virgin Orbit benefit from the skills and expertise of our personnel while propelling the RAF’s space ambitions to new heights."


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