Virgin Orbit Playing a Big Part in Developing ‘Space Beach’

Jon LeSage
THE COMPANY uses one of its former Virgin Atlantic airplanes, a modified Boeing 747 named Cosmic Girl, to carry forward rockets. Named LauncherOne, the rocket releases small satellites, called CubeSats; LauncherOne is built at the company’s Long Beach facilities.

Long Beach will play a part in Virgin Group founder Richard Branson’s vision for space travel becoming accessible for more fellow inhabitants of planet Earth. The company’s Virgin Orbit has made Long Beach its headquarters and has plans to build out its presence in the city.

Based at Douglas Park at the former Boeing C-17 grounds next to the Long Beach Airport, Virgin Orbit operates out of a 180,000-square-foot building on Cover Street and through a second building on nearby McGowen Street. The Douglas Park area has been informally called “Space Beach” due to the significant number of aerospace and space flight companies opening up there.

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket releases small satellites, called CubeSats, and is designed and manufactured at the Long Beach plant. LauncherOne rockets are ready to be air-launched from a modified Boeing 747 named Cosmic Girl and sent all over the world.

Virgin Orbit was launched in 2017 by the company’s Virgin Galactic division, which has been expanding its presence in the Southland substantially in recent years. Virgin’s Mojave facility will be expanding wtih its testing facility joined by the addition of its new Spaceship Company’s space-system manufacturing division. Virgin Galactic also operates staff offices in Tustin, Calif. The company is also beginning to start building a new spaceship facility in Mesa, Ariz.

There’a also a subsidiary of Virgin Orbit operating in El Segundo, Calif., called Virgin Orbit National Systems. It provides launch services for small satellites bound for Low Earth Orbit.

Branson Brings Passion for Adventure to Space Travel

It’s a fascinating time for the Virgin Galactic group after a busy period and more launches in the wings. It also follows a recently released HBO miniseries on the life of Branson – including two stunning near misses he lived through years ago during ballooning expeditions.

The four-part docuseries uses a 2021 space trip as the context for telling the story.

It’s moving to see Branson and crew floating inside the craft as they reached a certain flight level that released them from gravity; and then to complete the mission, which took place on Virgin Galactic’s passenger rocket plane VSS Unity in July 2021.

Branson described his role on the flight, besides his longtime passion for adventure, was to evaluate the private astronaut experience to prepare for future customers. For the time being, that experience will be so costly that only a small percentage of the Earth’s population will be able to afford it. Last year, Virgin Galactic opened flights to the public costing $450,000 for a 90-minute journey to the edge of space.

Virgin Galactic’s stated mission of “democratizing space” and increasing accessiblity implies that price will come down at some time; or that much larger customers — corporations, let’s say – will pick up the check.

Virgin Orbit has already been serving its clientele. Commercial service began in 2021, and the company says it’s already delivered commercial, civil, national security and international satellites into orbit. 

Virgin Will Be Adding Facilities

A year ago, Virgin Orbit filed for permission to enlarge its facilities and job opportunties in Long Beach. It was for expansion of its existing headquarters area to accommodate four new buildings totaling 315,000 square feet. It was approved by the city and is awaiting start of the construction process.

The project is expected to bring 600 new jobs to Long Beach. That would just about double Virgin Orbit’s current presence in the city. It appears that construction will be near the corporate building at 4022 E. Conant Street in Long Beach.

The second Virgin Orbit location currently in operation is located nearby at 3880 McGowan Street. That building houses the company’s payload processing facility, a service offered to clients paying for their satellite launches.

It provides customers with integration into the whole payload procedure. Payload fairing is used — a nose cone designed to protect spacecraft payload against the impract of dynamic pressure and heating during the launch and flights. They’re carried on trailers that function as a “clean room” that safely delivers the payload to the rocket, the company said.

Virgin Orbit first came into Long Beach in 2015 as part of Virgin Galactic. The division was given its own identity as Virgin Orbit in 2017. Virgin Group became interested in the land and possible employees as Boeing stepped forward on moving out of the city and leaving behind a talent pool of aerospace and aviation workers in the area, as well as its closeness to strong universities.

Virgin Orbit was granted approval on licenses for launching from the United Kingdom. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the UK’s space regulator, said that the company has been given approval to launch from Spaceport Cornwall in southern England. The company recently announced that the initial window for the UK launch had been set for Monday, Jan. 9.

However, that flight failed to reach orbit, due to “an anomaly” that will have to be investigated by the company. The crew safely returned and landed at Spaceport Cornwall.

That would be the first orbital space launch to happen on Branson’s birthland of Great Britain. For several years now, Branson and his family have been living on a fairly small private island in the British Virgin Islands.


Jon LeSage is a resident of Long Beach and a veteran business media reporter and editor. You can reach him at


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