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Virgin Orbit Wins HyperSat, QinetiQ Constellation Launch Contract

By Jeffrey Hill | April 21, 2021
      Virgin Orbit's dedicated smallsat launcher, Launcher One. Photo: Virgin Orbit.

      Virgin Orbit’s dedicated smallsat launcher, Launcher One. Photo: Virgin Orbit

      Defense and security company QinetiQ and geospatial analytics firm HyperSat selected Virgin Orbit to launch a series of six hyperspectral satellites to Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) on its LauncherOne system.

      Virgin Orbit will launch the first of the six satellites no earlier than 2023. No timetable was given for the launch of the remaining satellites. Hypersat and QinetiQ said they chose Virgin Orbit because of LauncherOne’s shorter call-up times, flexible scheduling, and ability to directly inject satellites into precise target orbits.

      HyperSat contracted QinetiQ to build the satellites and lead a team of technology partners that includes Redwire, Millennium Engineering and Integration, and Brandywine Photonics. The constellation is being designed for use by defense and security applications, and other commercial sectors, such as agriculture and insurance.

      The first satellite in the constellation will be able to image 500 spectral bands from the visible to shortwave infrared regions, with a ground sample distance of 6 meters. Subsequent satellites will offer longwave infrared images and more capability in the shortwave infrared region.

      “QinetiQ’s expertise in hyperspectral systems development and data analytics is helping to provide cutting edge technology for both public and commercial organizations; bringing space-based technology to defense and security customers while also supporting the remote sensing needs of civil, environmental and commercial industries,” QunetiQ President Mary Williams said in a statement.