Virgin Orbit designs new ventilator as part of Virgin Group's efforts to combat coronavirus

The small-satellite launch company Virgin Orbit has developed a new ventilator meant to be mass-producible to help support teams taking care of patients affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, another space company in the Virgin Group are putting forth an effort to aid the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Virgin Orbit worked with physicians and medical-device experts at the University of California Irvine (UCI) and the University of Texas at Austin, as part of the Bridge Ventilator Consortium, a group formed recently to quickly find a solution to the shortage of ventilators during the pandemic. 

While Virgin Orbit is usually building space technology, the new device is a ventilator designed for partially recovered patients and those not in intensive care, called a "bridge" ventilator. Such devices could free up more powerful, intensive care capable ventilators for patients in more severe conditions, the company said in a statement Monday (March 30). 

Related: Coronavirus in the US: Latest COVID-19 news and case counts
The coronavirus pandemic impacts on space exploration

"Bridge" ventilators developed by experts in collaboration with Virgin Orbit.  (Image credit: Virgin Orbit)

"Getting ventilators out there is very important to save lives," Dr. Brian J.F. Wong, an assistant chairman of otolaryngology (the study of the ears, nose and throat) at UCI who is a part of the Bridge Ventilator Consortium, said in the statement. "The demand outstrips supply, so it is important the government, industry, academia, non-profits and the community work together to identify solutions, and design and construct them as fast as possible."

Virgin Orbit's version is designed to be mass-produced, and the company hopes that a design will be ready for production in early April, according to the statement.

Virgin's efforts

But Virgin Orbit isn't the only Virgin Group company stepping up to the plate. 

According to a statement from Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company and Virgin Group are all helping with relief efforts. 

In-house flight doctors Virgin Galactic, a space tourism company building a fleet of suborbital SpaceShipTwo spaceliners, are part of a team at the company that is providing support for hospitals, medical equipment suppliers and the government. The company has so far donated supplies targeted to the coronavirus, including masks (including N95 masks), protective suits, gloves and Powered Air Purifying Respirators, to a number of hospitals. 

Virgin Galactic is also working to acquire and donate additional equipment and supplies and are helping facilities in Mexico and California to buy faster testing equipment. 

Virgin Galactic engineers and outside collaborators are designing a low-cost oxygen hood; these tools can help patients who do not yet need ventilators but are having some trouble breathing. 

The company is also helping to provide food and medical supplies to medical centers in New Mexico and California. 

Space videos

In addition to these efforts to support the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, Virgin Galactic is also launching a live, online educational video series. The series, Spacechat LIVE, is part of the company's Galactic Unite outreach initiative and will run every Thursday on the company's YouTube channel.

This Thursday (April 2), in the first episode of the series, Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic's Chief Astronaut Instructor, will chat about what it's like to go to space. The episode will air at 12:30 p.m. EDT (1630 GMT).

Follow Chelsea Gohd on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

OFFER: Save at least 56% with our latest magazine deal!

OFFER: Save at least 56% with our latest magazine deal!

All About Space magazine takes you on an awe-inspiring journey through our solar system and beyond, from the amazing technology and spacecraft that enables humanity to venture into orbit, to the complexities of space science.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

Chelsea Gohd
Senior Writer

Chelsea “Foxanne” Gohd joined in 2018 and is now a Senior Writer, writing about everything from climate change to planetary science and human spaceflight in both articles and on-camera in videos. With a degree in Public Health and biological sciences, Chelsea has written and worked for institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine and Live Science. When not writing, editing or filming something space-y, Chelsea "Foxanne" Gohd is writing music and performing as Foxanne, even launching a song to space in 2021 with Inspiration4. You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd and @foxannemusic.