UK and Italy Join Virgin Space Programmes


An RAF pilot will be seconded to the civilian company Virgin Orbit that is developing a new satellite launcher. Flt Lt Mathew Stannard, who currently flies the Typhoon with 41 Sqn, will be a test pilot on the modified 747-400 Cosmic Girl, which will launch small satellites using the new LauncherOne rocket system. In July the MOD announced it intended to launch a small satellite demonstrator within a year under Project Artemis. Virgin Orbit is one of the industry partners in the programme.

The Italian Air Force has signed a contract for a research flight on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo under which researchers will actively conduct experiments while they are in space. The contract marks the first time a government department has funded a human-tended research flight on a commercial space vehicle. The mission, which may take place as early as 2020, will fly three Italian payload specialists and a rack of research equipment. The Italian Air Force and Virgin Galactic’s experts are working with the Italian National Research Centre (CNR) on the design of the experimental payloads. The equipment will include medical instrumentation that will measure the biological effects of the transitional phase from gravity to micro gravity on the human body. Other testing equipment may be used to help develop a new understanding of the chemistry of green fuels.