Virgin Orbit, which builds and operates satellite launchers, has developed a new mass-producible bridge ventilator to help in the fight against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Virgin Orbit team has been consulting with the Bridge Ventilator Consortium (BVC), led by the University of California Irvine (UCI) and the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin), a group formed to spawn and nurture efforts to build producible, simple ventilators to aid in the current COVID-19 crisis. Pending clearance by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Virgin Orbit aims to commence production at its Long Beach manufacturing facility in early April, sprinting to deliver units into the hands of first responders and healthcare professionals as soon as possible.
As the COVID-19 crisis worsens and the paucity of medical equipment becomes more and more clear, the Virgin Orbit team says it is strongly motivated to do all that it can to help. “On a normal day, we’re building rockets and other equipment for space launch; we are not medical doctors nor are we usually manufacturers of medical devices. But we do have a team of incredibly innovative and agile thinkers — experts in designing, fabricating, programming, testing — who are eager to lend a hand.”
After contacting Governor Gavin Newsom last week, Virgin Orbit says it was directed by his office to the California Emergency Medical Services Authority (CEMSA) and put in contact with the BVC. The BVC is a team of brilliant doctors, medical device experts, and researchers at UCI and UT Austin who are working around the clock, sharing ideas across a broad national and international network to share best practices and design insights and to accelerate progress on solutions to this equipment shortage. Today, complex, high-end, ICU-capable ventilators are sometimes the only option available for moderate cases — for people who don’t necessarily need intensive care or have partially recovered. By supplying “bridge” ventilators, Virgin Orbit’s device can free up those critical resources for the most ill.
“We face a slow-motion Dunkirk, and getting ventilators out there is very important to save lives,” says Dr. Brian J.F. Wong, assistant chairman of otolaryngology at UCI. “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 engineers have taken rapid scaling into account from the beginning of the design process, taking advantage of the most common and robust manufacturing and assembly processes. The company’s aim is to have a functioning, deployable bridge ventilator in production in early April. Virgin Orbit would continue on to rapidly scale up to mass production in its Long Beach facility, in addition to potentially activating other manufacturers as soon as the new device is reproducible and production-ready.
“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,” says 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.”