10 Oct 2019

RAF pilot chosen for Virgin Orbit small satellite launch

Virgin and the RAF have chosen an RAF pilot for the Virgin Orbit small satellite launch programme.

Flight Lieutenant Mathew Stannard has been chosen by the RAF and Virgin for the small satellite launch programme. He is expected to join the programme next year after UK and US regulatory approvals.

The next phase of the programme will see Flt Lt Stannard join a fleet of test pilots trialling the Boeing 747-400 aircraft launching satellites into space. It is hoped he will return to the RAF with a greater understanding of small satellites which can be passed on to the entire military.

RAF Air Capability Chief of Staff Air Vice-Marshall Simon Rochelle said: “It’s great news that the RAF can now confirm the secondment of Flight Lieutenant Stannard to the Virgin Orbit team. This move comes through our close collaboration and formal partnership with Virgin Orbit within Team ARTEMIS.”

“Having one of our Test Pilots working at the heart of such a cutting-edge programme is a significant step in the RAF’s space journey. It also reinforces the close relationship we have with industry and with the US, we expect this to further enable UK satellite launch capabilities.”

Flt Lieutenant Stannard said: “I’ve flown Tornado and Typhoon fighter jets in the RAF but being involved in Virgin Orbit’s space programme is a truly unique opportunity.”

“This programme is pushing the boundaries of our understanding of space so it’s a real privilege to be part of it and I’m looking forward to bringing the skills and knowledge I gain back to the RAF.”

The announcement was made aboard the RMS Queen Mary in California. The MOD has committed to a stronger space initiative, including partnering with the US in Operation Olympic Defender to improve their presence in space.

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