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Billionaire Richard Branson’s space company Virgin Orbit is doing its part to fight the coronavirus by switching out its typical rocket manufacturing for newly mass-produced bridge ventilators, according to a company press release sent out on Monday.
“We are all heartbroken each night as we turn on the news and see the predicament facing doctors and nurses as they heroically work to save lives,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart. “I have never seen our team working harder. Never seen ideas moving quicker from design to prototype. We are hopeful that this device can help as we all prepare for the challenges ahead.”
The company has been consulting the Bridge Ventilator Consortium led by the University of California Irvine and the University of Texas at Austin for its latest manufacturing initiative. Once Virgin Orbit has received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the company intends to build ventilators at its Long Beach, California, facility to address the pandemic.
If successful, production can begin as early as April and will be delivered to first responders and health care professionals, according to the release.
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Virgin Orbit reportedly reached out to California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom about the issue last week and was connected to the Bridge Ventilator Consortium through the California Emergency Medical Services Authority.
“We face a slow-motion Dunkirk, and getting ventilators out there is very important to save lives,” said Dr. Brian J.F. Wong, assistant chairman of otolaryngology at the University of California Irvine in the release. “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.”