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  • By Julian North

Guam selected as 2nd Virgin Orbit satellite launch site

First launch could occur within a year from Andersen AFB;

Won Pat International will be a future launch site after FAA licensure

Guam's strategic location has long involved the island in the American space program stretching back to the 1960s. Missions have been tracked from Guam and astronauts have been picked up in surrounding waters. Now a new era begins.

Nearly five months after declaring that Guam was its ideal first choice for a new launch site, Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit made its wishes a reality, by announcing that A.B. Won Pat International Airport has officially been selected as a launch site for the private small satellite launch company.

The announcement came from Gov. Lou Leon and Lt. Gov. Joshua Tenorio. “This is a rare opportunity for our island to be front and center of a groundbreaking space industry,” said Leon Guerrero. “Guam has always been a rare gem known for great weather, a beautiful landscape and warm people, and now we can add space transportation to that list.”

Last month,Tenorio met with Richard DalBello, Vice President of Business Development and Government Affairs of Virgin Galactic; and Mandy Vaughn, President of VOX Space LLC, sister company of Virgin Orbit, to discuss the possibility of using Guam as a hub for launching small satellites.

“We are keen to partner with Virgin Orbit to generate a new space industry in Guam and advance our local economy, as well as spur new STEM education opportunities for our youth to take us into the future,” said Tenorio.

Guam will become the second site to host a flight of Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne service, the company said in its announcement. "With its remote location and close proximity to the equator, Guam serves as an excellent base of operations from which the company’s unique, 747-launched rocket can efficiently serve all inclinations, a boon to the rapidly expanding small satellite market. Most excitingly, the new location enables LauncherOne to deliver 450 kg to a 500 km equatorial orbit.

The addition of Guam to that list enhances the flexibility of Virgin Orbit’s launch operations, adding a low-latitude site with clear launch trajectories in almost all directions, giving Virgin Orbit’s customers unparalleled control over where and when their small spacecraft are deployed."

The company press release said that the U.S. Pacific Air Forces issued a letter of support for Andersen Air Force Base to host launches and other exercises with LauncherOne and its dedicated carrier aircraft—a critical step en route to a first launch from the island, which could occur in as little as a year’s time.

Meanwhile, A.B. Won Pat International Airport, has begun the process of seeking its launch site operator’s license from the Federal Aviation Authority’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, in order to serve as a future launch site for Virgin Orbit.

Unlike the satellite launches of the past, Virgin Orbit uses some familiar technology to achieve more flexibility and cut costs, according to the company press release. "By using a customized 747-400 aircraft as its “flying launch pad,” Virgin Orbit gains the ability to quickly transport the entire launch site to new locations around the world,launching each satellite from the optimal location. This mobile approach to launches substantially reduces the expense required for infrastructure at each launch site. “Launching from Guam gives us easy access to every orbital inclination our customers need. With our air-launched system, we will fly out as any other airplane, move out to sea and release our rocket. Our minimal footprint coupled with Guam’s natural launch location results in a great match."

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