Virgin Orbit, Who Has Been Saying Their First Launch is This Year for Nearly Three Years, Deemed an Essential Service

Sandra Erwin, for SpaceNews:

“In conversations with our representatives, we have learned that our work of developing and operating our flexible, responsive space launch system for our customers, including those at NASA and in the U.S. Department of Defense, has been deemed as one such essential service, and that therefore we have been exempted from many of the “Safer At Home” shelter in place restrictions,” Virgin Orbit Kendall Russell said in a statement.

To prevent the spread of the virus, Virgin Orbit will be sending all employees home for the next week except a “small crew necessary to assure the safety and security of the facility,” said Russell. “Those employees who can do their work remotely will do so; and those who cannot work remotely will still be paid in full.”

With all due respect to anyone reading this who works at Virgin Orbit, this is quite frankly bullshit. I’m fine with designating high-visibility, time-sensitive launch campaigns like Mars 2020 (Perseverance), Commercial Crew, or even AEHF-6 as essential services. But a company still in the development and testing phase of a launch vehicle that has been delayed for several years now with the only government flight being a Space Test Program launch?

If there’s something the Department of Defense needs up in space so urgently, I would suggest driving 20 minutes north to Hawthorne and having a conversation with SpaceX.

For context, I have plenty of my own questions about the economic impact of a worldwide shutdown in response to the ongoing pandemic, sure. But this situation isn’t a mythical, low-probability threat to me as it is to most people out there.

My wife is a physician here in Philadelphia. She and many of our closest friends, here and elsewhere in the country, wake up every morning and head into a hospital where they face first-hand the problems the rest of us only read about. I can’t honestly justify why Virgin Orbit should be designated an essential service while also seeing the situation from as close as you can get to it without being there.

I’m open to hearing why I’m wrong, and I’d love to hear how many people are going into the Virgin Orbit facility each day, so reach out if you’ve got something to say about either item.