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Virgin Orbit gets license for space launches in Brazil

he futuristic Virgin Galactic reuseable, sub-orbital spacecraft on static display at the Farnborough International Airshow. Photo: Steve Mann/Shutterstock
he futuristic Virgin Galactic reuseable, sub-orbital spacecraft on static display at the Farnborough International Airshow. Photo: Steve Mann/Shutterstock

In a Monday securities filing, Virgin Orbit announced it has received an operating license allowing for launch operations in Brazil. After the news broke, the company’s share prices skyrocketed 19.2 percent.

Virgin Orbit plans to launch its LauncherOne system — a proprietary two-stage orbital launch vehicle that began operational flights in 2021, after being in development from 2007 to 2020 — from the Alcântara launch center, in the state of Maranhão.

Located just south of the equator, launches from Alcântara are cheaper, more efficient, and more reliable. In its statement, Virgin Orbit describes the location of the base as a “global sweet spot.”

“Virgin Orbit’s launch system is expected to give Alcântara the opportunity to become one of the only continental spaceports in the world functionally capable of reaching any orbital inclination,” the company claims. “The Alcântara Launch Center has hosted several launches of suborbital rockets, but the facility has not yet been used to reach Earth orbit.”

“Virgin Orbit will be able to improve its capabilities when taking off from the Alcântara base. The weather is good, the runway is wonderful, the airspace is clear and it is equipped with tracking systems. Together, we can do much more,” Carlos Moura, head of the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB), said in a statement.

The license is part of Brazil’s continuing efforts to profit from one of the world’s best facilities for launching satellites. The country was limited by a lack of a technology safeguards agreement (TSA) with the U.S. — which was finally signed in 2019.

The deal protects U.S. intellectual property, finally allowing American technology to be used in launches from the Alcântara base. This caused problems in the past as nearly every satellite launch uses some form of equipment or process belonging to the U.S.

A week and a half ago, Mr. Moura confirmed that South Korean aerospace and defense company Innospace will be the first private business to send a rocket into orbit from the Alcântara launch center in northeastern Brazil in December.

In February, AEB inked a partnership deal with Amazon Web Services. The two parties signed a term of strategic intent and cooperation, the first of its type for Amazon in Latin America.