During WWII, Douglas Park in Long Beach was a central hub for aircraft manufacturing (right). Today, space companies such as SpinLaunch, Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit (left) are continuing that legacy by building rocket and satellite services. (Courtesy Historical Society of Long Beach and Virgin Orbit)
During WWII, Douglas Park in Long Beach was a central hub for aircraft manufacturing (right). Today, space companies such as SpinLaunch, Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit (left) are continuing that legacy by building rocket and satellite services.

Courtesy Historical Society of Long Beach and Virgin Orbit

‘Who can get satellites into space faster’

Long Beach positioned as ground zero for new space race.

February 7, 2020

Long Beach bore witness to great leaps in aviation history, now, the coastal town is front and center to a spectacle above the stars.

Virgin Orbit, SpinLaunch and Rocket Lab are three satellite and rocket companies that have recently established headquarters in Long Beach.

The teams of these various space companies will work on a number of tasks, from manufacturing to mission control.

The news of these space companies docking into Long Beach has drawn much praise from Mayor Robert Garcia.

During his Building a Better Long Beach speech last year, Garcia acknowledged that SpinLaunch and Virgin Orbit had brought space-craft manufacturing to Long Beach and put the city on the map in terms of space-technology development.

“[SpinLaunch], which is moving in not too far from Virgin Orbit, is opening up 140,000 square-foot facility where they’ll be manufacturing their satellite work, as will Virgin Orbit,” Garcia said during his speech, “as they compete, in a friendly way, to see who can get satellites into space faster.”

Hailing from Silicon Valley, SpinLaunch moved to its new headquarters in Douglas Park last June. The company announced in a press release that it was preparing for its first kinetic-energy test flights in early 2020.

“SpinLaunch selected Long Beach to be our corporate headquarters because Southern California has always been the hub of aerospace, and specifically a hub for innovation,” said Jonathan Yaney, company founder and CEO.

SpinLaunch also stated that, last year, it had received a responsive launch-prototype contract from the Department of Defense. Yaney said his company focuses on developing technologies that use ground-based energy during launch missions.

“SpinLaunch is reimagining space launch by leveraging proven industrial technologies to create a system that accelerates the launch vehicle to hypersonic speeds using ground-based electricity,” he said. “This will enable us to provide a substantially lower cost launch to orbit, multiple times per day. Our first flight test is expected later this year at Spaceport America in New Mexico. At our new 140,000 square-foot facility in Long Beach, we are investing in equipment and machinery to create a world-class R&D manufacturing facility.”

Virgin Orbit, a subsidiary of entrepreneur Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, has manufactured “dozens of rockets per year” from its Long Beach facility at 4022 E. Conant St., according to its website.

Steve Eisele, vice president of business development for Virgin Orbit, told the Signal Tribune during an interview Friday, Feb. 7 that the Long Beach facility is the “heart and soul” of the company’s business.

“We’re approximately 550 people in this facility–– our headquarters in Long Beach–– and we have about another 50 employees that work at some other facilities in Washington D.C. and the Mojave [desert],” he said.

All of Virgin Orbit’s parts, development and integration for the company are put together in Long Beach.

Eisele also noted the flexibility of the company’s launch services.

“Virgin Orbit is an air-launch system,” he said. “We utilize a Boeing 747 plane to launch rockets into low orbit. We can fly the rocket to really any azimuth or latitude.”

On Jan. 28, the Signal Tribune spoke with Morgan Bailey, Rocket Lab’s media spokesperson, who is based in New Zealand, about her company’s facility in Long Beach.

She said that Rocket Lab was founded in 2006 to offer launch services out of New Zealand, where the skies and water ways experienced less traffic.

Space companies that wanted to send a satellite into space did so by hitching a ride onboard larger rocket companies–– it was the industry norm, Bailey said. This dependency proved to be unproductive, as launch scheduling was out of the smaller company’s hands.

Currently, the company is working on a new photon satellite, which can support missions with up to a five-year, on-orbit life span.

“We are transitioning from a pure launch provider into a space-systems company,” Bailey said. “In Long Beach, we will be expanding operations for the design and manufacturing of those satellites.”

Rocket Lab’s Long Beach offices will not only serve as its mission-control center in the U.S., but it will also pioneer space systems and designs.

“We are incredibly excited to see Rocket Lab move to Long Beach,” Garcia stated in a press release. “The expansion of this company in a city with an aerospace history as rich as ours will support new jobs and economic growth in the region.”

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