Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit to Pivot From Rockets to Ventilators.

Richard Branson

 

Billionaire Richard Branson’s rocket-launch company is looking to join the rush to make ventilators, as a shortage of the life-saving equipment looms because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Virgin Orbit is trying to start producing a simple type of medical ventilator next month at a rate of several hundred a week, spokesman Kendall Russell said Monday. The company is working with the Bridge Ventilator Consortium, an effort led by the University of California at Irvine and the University of Texas at Austin.

The company is awaiting U.S. Food and Drug Administration approvals for its design, which would provide respiratory assistance without the size and expense of larger and more sophisticated models, Russell said. Virgin Orbit would also give the ventilator a design that other companies could copy to build the model.

The Long Beach, California-based company has about 75% of its employees working remotely because of the virus. Branson founded Virgin Orbit to handle smaller payloads, with its rocket launched from the wing of a Boeing Co. 747 jumbo jet. The company is preparing for a flight test with a fully loaded rocket.

General Motors Co. is working with Ventec Life Systems Inc. to start making ventilators at an auto-parts plant in about a month, while Ford Motor Co. is working on a parallel ventilator effort expected to bear fruit by June.

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