The Satellite Applications Catapult, Horizon Technologies, and Virgin Orbit Accelerate the UK Small Satellite Market with a New Launch Agreement for Cornwall 2022

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The Satellite Applications Catapult (“the Catapult”) and Virgin Orbit (“Virgin Orbit”, Nasdaq: VORB), a leading launch provider, have announced an agreement to launch the latest satellite in the Catapult’s In-Orbit Demonstration (IOD) programme into space from the United Kingdom later this year.

The satellite, called Amber-1, is a partnership between the Catapult and Horizon Technologies. Built by AAC Clyde Space in Scotland, it will be launched by Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne on its historic flight from Spaceport Cornwall this year – a mission that is expected to mark the first ever orbital launch from a United Kingdom spaceport.

The objective of the mission is to demonstrate for the first time how launch from the United Kingdom can benefit the rapidly growing UK space sector and can enable organisations to rapidly deploy new technologies to orbit, with a complete end-to-end capability coordinated from UK soil.

Amber-1 is expected to be the first of 20+ planned Amber™ satellites to provide Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) data to users.  Using unique, patented technology, the system will geolocate and demodulate radio frequency (RF) data from ships around the world.  Horizon Technologies’ data will be used by governments to provide information on the tracking and prevention of illegal fishing, smuggling, trafficking, piracy, and terrorism. Information collected through the programme will be provided to the United Kingdom’s Joint Maritime Security Centre (JMSC).

We are delighted to work with the Catapult and Horizon to launch Amber-1 on this planned historic flight, the first to bring domestic launch capability to the United Kingdom. We believe tracking shipping from space is vital to keeping the seas safe and that Amber-1 is a key technology that will aid this endeavour. This important technology, and Virgin Orbit’s collaboration with the Catapult are the latest signs of the growth we are seeing across the UK space economy. This is galvanized by our planned capability to launch straight from the United Kingdom to orbit,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart.

Lucy Edge, COO of the Satellite Applications Catapult said:This launch is a huge milestone for the space sector in the UK. This summer, the UK completes its end-to-end ecosystem enabling companies to design, build, launch and operate their spacecraft all from one place.

“The impact for the UK Space Economy is uncapped, and we look forward to supporting this vibrant sector in demonstrating major advances in agile access to space.”

John Beckner, CEO of Horizon Technologies said: “The launch of Amber-1 has been a long time in coming, and we are thrilled to be part of our partner, Virgin Orbit’s planned launch this summer.  Amber™ will revolutionize maritime RF detection from space using single CubeSats (as opposed to expensive clusters).  We believe Amber™ is a glowing example of a successful partnership between a growing UK SME and the Satellite Applications Catapult.

Science Minister George Freeman said:British satellites have been saving lives at sea for decades by providing emergency communications and location services, so it is fitting that Virgin Orbit’s first mission from Space Cornwall later this year will launch a maritime intelligence satellite.

“This will be a major milestone for our £16 billion space and satellite sector and a great example of the government’s National Space Strategy in action.

Esra Kasapoglu, Director of AI and Data Economy, Innovate UK added,The British satellite and space sector plays a significant role in saving lives, digital communications, location services, scientific discoveries and creating environmental and social impact.

It is excellent to see Innovate UK’s funding for the In-Orbit Demonstration programme resulting in the launch of the first small satellite from a British spaceport.  This is a milestone achievement and highlights the importance of our developing sovereign capabilities in these turbulent times. 

The launch of this maritime intelligence satellite has been achieved through the partnership of the Satellite Applications Catapult and Virgin Orbit, to deliver the In-Orbit Demonstration Program. This programme will not only support the security of the maritime environment and maritime operations but signals the start of the UK’s space launch industry. 

The UK has some of the most innovative satellite companies in the world and, with this is a major first achieved, we are truly moving from being a seafaring nation to a spacefaring nation.

Innovate UK, as part of UK Research and Innovation, will continue to support this vibrant space and satellite sector, their SMEs, and innovators.”

Ian Annett, Deputy CEO of the UK Space Agency, said:We are delivering on the ambitious plans for the UK to tap into the growing global market for small satellite launch and it is exciting to see yet another satellite confirmed for launch by Virgin Orbit. 

“This country is home to some of the most innovative satellite companies in the world, but they have never been able to launch from UK soil. We are on the cusp of a major milestone as a spacefaring nation, as we countdown to the first small satellite launch from a British spaceport.

Chris Chant, Director of the Joint Maritime Security Centre said:JMSC provides government with comprehensive maritime domain awareness of the UK EEZ and the UK Overseas Territories. I look forward to seeing how this capability will contribute to that picture.”

Melissa Thorpe, Head of Spaceport Cornwall said: “This announcement is exactly why we are so excited to offer sovereign launch from Spaceport Cornwall.  We are proud to know that on our first launch this year, will be Amber-1, which will be integral to the UK’s maritime safety – benefitting not only the general public, but the marine ecosystem. This is a larger scale representation of what we are trying to achieve through Kernow Sat-1, with the monitoring of ocean health around the coast of Cornwall. This mission encapsulates using space for good, by demonstrating how increased Earth Observation can aid humanity and our environment.” 

The IOD programme is funded by Innovate UK and the UK Space Agency. The 6U satellite platform for the mission has been built by Glasgow-based AAC Clyde Space, one of the largest CubeSat manufacturers in the world.