Oxford tech company to build infrastructure for space launches from Cornwall

AVS Virgin space

A Harwell-based company which designs complex and critical equipment for the big science and space markets worldwide, has signed a manufacturing agreement with Virgin Orbit, Richard Branson’s space company.

AVS Added Value Solutions UK (AVS) will build the Transportable Ground Operating System (TGOS) that will support Virgin Orbit‘s UK subsidiary, in its launch activities from Spaceport Cornwall. This manufacturing work, which will begin shortly in AVS’ Harwell facility, represents a major step forward in the journey to bring space launch to Britain.

Virgin Orbit’s unique air-launch system launches satellites to space from a rocket carried beneath the wing of a modified 747 aircraft, giving the system. To conduct launches, the company requires only a runway, launch license, and a set of ground support equipment (GSE) such as the one AVS is now building, which are designed to prepare the rocket for flight and to mount it on the wing of the aircraft.

AVS was selected from a large pool of Tier 1 UK suppliers who responded to an open Request for Proposals. The AVS bid emerged as the top pick due to its expertise in complex and critical space and scientific equipment (including large space GSE and propulsion).

No satellite has ever been launched to space from the Islands of the North Atlantic, despite a thriving satellite manufacturing and operations industry in the region. Virgin Orbit and Spaceport Cornwall are working to change that, supported by the UK Space Agency and Cornwall Council. Having recently completed a successful orbital launch of NASA satellites, the Virgin Orbit team is eager to bring its system to Cornwall.

Virgin Orbit CEO, Dan Hart, said:“We’re fortunate to have an excellent local partner in AVS helping us to bring launch to the UK. This is an exciting step forward for everyone — from the UK government to local businesses to scientific researchers — who can all benefit from a domestic path to orbit. We’re looking forward to the day when the British people have the opportunity to see the economic, educational, and security benefits of space firsthand.”

Alberto Garbayo, AVS UK CEO, said: “This project represents one of the key UK ambitions in the space market: the launch of small satellites from UK spaceports. And we are thrilled to help achieve this key milestone for the success of the UK space industry as a whole. We are sure that this is only the beginning of a long-standing relationship with Virgin Orbit, hopefully not only as a supplier, but as a customer as well.”

UK Space Agency Deputy Chief Executive Ian Annett said: “The UK Government is planning for the UK to be at the forefront of small satellite launch in a globally competitive market, and our ambition is for the first UK launches to take place from 2022. This manufacturing agreement between Virgin Orbit and AVS will support launch activities from Spaceport Cornwall and act as a catalyst for growth in the wider space industry, helping to create highly skilled jobs and bringing economic benefits across the UK.”