Virgin Orbit will launch the first Dutch military satellite into orbit in mid-March. It is a so-called nanosatellite that is slightly larger than a carton of milk. Named after the first Dutch military aircraft, the Dutch Ministry of Defense enters the space domain with the Brik-II. The exact date of the launch has yet to be determined because it depends, among other things, on the weather and the availability of the airspace.
It is currently still an experimental project of the Royal Netherlands Air Force, but in time it should lead to its own capabilities, improving communication and observation capabilities. At the same time, it makes the Ministry of Defense less dependent, and therefore less vulnerable, on external parties. At the end of 2019 NATO already emphasized the importance of space, by declaring it an operational domain. The Ministry of Defense also recognizes the importance. Defense Vision 2035 states that the space domain is a necessary link in information-driven operations.
Goal of the experiment
The Brik-II satellite is a partnership of Defense, Dutch companies and knowledge institutes. Nanosatellites are cheaper than their traditional big brothers, but have a smaller capacity. So you need several, but at the same time this reduces the vulnerability of the system as a whole. An important goal of the Brik II is to demonstrate that nano-satellites can be relevant for (military) communication and information applications.
Delft-based Innovative Solutions in Space designed and built the Brik-II. The company also took care of the integration into the missile. The Royal Netherlands Aerospace Center (NLR) designed new technologies from the Brik II. In addition, 982 Squadron and the University of Oslo jointly designed and built sensors for the Brik-II satellite.
The launch was originally scheduled to take place in 2019. Designing and manufacturing a high-tech capability that cannot be bought out-of-the-box was more time consuming than expected. It turned out to be the sum of learning moments, adjustment and coordination processes and Corona limitations.
Named after De Brik
The name “Brik-II” symbolizes the development of the Dutch aerospace industry since 1913. In that year Marinus van Meel built “De Brik”. This was the 1st military aircraft of the then “Aviation Department” in Soesterberg.
Launch by Virgin Orbit
Currently scheduled to launch in 2021, Brik-II will fly as a rideshare payload on an upcoming Launcher One mission. Virgin Orbit is also working via their subsidiary, VOX Space, to add payloads to this mission from the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DOD) Space Test Program. With the U.S. government as a co-passenger, the mission represents an exciting opportunity for the Netherlands and the U.S. to jointly explore, develop and benefit from the next generation of space capabilities.
As part of the Netherlands’ broader plan to pursue a responsive space capability, RNLAF, Virgin Orbit and ISIS will pursue a demonstration of “late-load” integration, mating the payload to the rocket shortly prior to launch. This exercise will prove critical in pioneering the payload processing capabilities required to execute responsive launch. Following this exercise, Virgin Orbit and RNLAF will analyze the results and document them in a future whitepaper to be shared with other allied partners.
Virgin Orbit will conduct this mission from Mojave Air and Space Port in California.
“Being able to launch our very first satellite is a major milestone for the RNLAF and the Dutch joint force as a whole. We are on a pathway to developing space capabilities as part of a yet to be released MoD Space Strategy. As set out in our latest Defense White Paper, we would like to develop our Joint ISR capabilities in space alongside our allies and partners,” said RNLAF commander Lt. Gen Dennis Luyt. “Being able to share this major milestone with Virgin Orbit’s development of responsive launch capability is second to none. We feel privileged to take this step and look forward to what the future has to offer.”
“We’re so honored to be supporting the RNLAF by providing this first launch, and we’re looking forward to seeing the Netherlands and the U.S. find mutual benefit from leveraging our uniquely flexible and mobile launch system. I can already foresee the day when we will take off from a runway on Dutch soil and deliver RNLAF satellites to space directly. LauncherOne’s unique air launch capability is filling a gap for government space missions — mobility and responsiveness are sorely needed to disincentivize aggression in space at a time when we rely more and more on a threatened space infrastructure,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart.