Virgin’s newest company is Virgin Orbit, a small satellite specialist

Virgin’s business in space just got a little busier – the company founded by Richard Branson just launched a new operation called Virgin Orbit, which becomes its own subsidiary company alongside Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company in Virgin’s space roster. Virgin Orbit will focus on dedicated launches of small satellites (smallsats), and will be headed up by Dan Hart, a longtime Boeing vet who acted as VP of Government Satellite Systems at his last gig.

Virgin Orbit isn’t the group’s first crack at the can when it comes to launching small satellites, which are a relatively new category of device that offer advantages in terms of cost, production time and launch volume and that can operate in low Earth orbit (LEO) for functions like setting up a communications network, space-based imaging and more.

The new company was operating under Virgin Galactic as LauncherOne, the namesake of the small satellite launch system that Virgin has been working on, and which is already in the “advanced phase of hardware testing for every subsystem and major component of the vehicle,” according to the company’s press release announcing the news.

Small satellite operations are quickly becoming big business, with many small private participants emerging. Alternatives like World View are also taking different approaches to similar market needs, and legacy players like Boeing are reimagining aspects of their operation to stay more competitive with new entrants in this space.