Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit, a sister company to the space tourism-focused Virgin Galactic, has announced today it intends to launch an ambitious mission to Mars as soon as three years from now – opening a new window into interplanetary Solar System exploration.
In a statement released today, the company said it was working with the Polish company SatRevolution to develop a mission to send the world’s first “dedicated commercial small satellite mission to Mars.” The mission would launch on LauncherOne, an air-launch rocket being designed by the company to operate from its modified Boeing 747 plane, called Cosmic Girl.
“We have already seen the incredible utility of small satellites here in Earth orbit, and we’re thrilled to start providing dedicated launches to deep space,” Virgin Orbit’s Vice President of Business Development Stephen Eisele said in the statement.
Working with SatRevolution and a handful of Polish universities as part of a Mars consortium, Virgin Orbit said it would be designing three scientific missions to travel to Mars, with the first launch expected no sooner than 2022.
Details on the missions haven’t been revealed yet, but the company noted that spacecraft as small as 50 kilograms would be used to image Mars and its moon Phobos, analyze the Martian atmosphere, and even look for subsurface water.
California-based Virgin Orbit has yet to launch one of its LauncherOne rockets to orbit, but it hopes to do so for the first time later this year. The company