Virgin Orbit will launch a satellite into space for Japanese earth observation constellation operator Institute for Q-shu Pioneers of Space(iQPS). The launch is expected to happen in early 2023.

The satellite is expected to play a critical role in enabling near real-time earth observation by iQPS’s Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) constellation. iQPS enables the development of small, high-performance SAR satellites by employing a unique deployable antenna that is large but easy to stow and weighs only 10kg. The satellite is capable of penetrating clouds and collecting high-resolution images even in adverse weather conditions, enabling frequent and important earth observation missions.

Virgin Orbit was selected for LauncherOne’s proven ability to provide direct access to diverse orbits. Virgin Orbit expects to launch the QPS-SAR-5 satellite into a tailored mid-inclination orbit to allow iQPS to expand the coverage of its constellation and revisit rate. By directly injecting the QPS-SAR-5 into the desired orbit on iQPS’s schedule, LauncherOne’s flexibility should allow for iQPS to rapidly commission the QPS-SAR-5 and begin collecting information from areas of key interest to its customers.

iQPS is planning to establish a constellation of 36 satellites which enable the observation of particular locations almost everywhere in the world in around 10 minutes, or every 10 minutes to a fixed area for observation.

Virgin Orbit demonstrated its ability to reach unique orbital inclinations during its Above the Clouds mission in January 2022. In this mission, LauncherOne and its carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl deployed seven customer satellites to 500km circular orbit at 45-degrees inclination after taking off from Mojave Air and Spaceport in Mojave, California – a first for the launch industry.

“Virgin Orbit is grateful for the opportunity to work with such an innovator as iQPS. The iQPS team is on the cutting edge of space technology and their products are critically needed to provide new capabilities for disaster prevention, infrastructure management, agriculture, marine/fishery, and the realisation of autonomous driving,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart. “Coupled with LauncherOne, trailblazing operators like iQPS can tailor their launch needs around their mission, and not the other way around, serving their customers from the outset.”

iQPS Inc. CEO Shunsuke Onishi added: “Following our launch announcements regarding QPS-SAR-3 and 4, we looked forward to presenting our plans for QPS-SAR-5. We all are very pleased and honoured to be working with Virgin Orbit. In Japan, Oita Prefecture and Virgin Orbit have announced a partnership in April 2020 to launch satellites after 2022 from the Oita Airport Spaceport, and plans are currently underway. The founders of iQPS, who started the company with the goal of establishing a space industry in Kyushu, have a strong passion to launch satellites manufactured in Kyushu from Kyushu. We hope that this launch agreement between Virgin Orbit and iQPS will be a positive step toward the early realisation of the Oita Spaceport.”


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