Monday, December 6, 2021

Virgin Orbit is optimistic about the national security launch

By 2026, Virgin Orbit expects national security and defense to account for more than 40% of the company’s revenue. Small satellites are launched by Virgin Orbit using rockets launched from a Boeing 747 airplane. Executives announced November 17 during an “Investors Day” event that the firm already has won a handful of deals to launch US military satellites and is aggressively seeking additional business in national security industry.

The US Space Force STP-VP27B satellite, and other commercial payloads, will be launched on the company’s next mission, which is scheduled for early to mid-December. “National security, in particular, is a big issue,” stated Dan Hart, who is the current Virgin Orbit Chief Executive officer.

The LauncherOne rocket, which can launch small satellites into low Earth orbit from practically any airport, gives Virgin Orbit an advantage at a moment when space has become a battleground, according to Hart. “Of course, we had a sad occurrence this week in which the Russians opted to showcase an anti-satellite weapon by blowing up one of their satellites, sending a clear message that no satellite in space is secure.”

An air-launched vehicle which can offer services on late notice would be a useful asset if US satellites were ever attacked and the Pentagon required to install replacement ones rapidly, he said. “If a satellite is made inoperable or attacked, the ability to deploy from anyplace is critical,” he added. “If we can show that we can put a satellite up regularly from anyplace at any time, that disincentivizes nations from investing in such kinds of weapons,” says the author.

Virgin Orbit has been lobbying the US government to raise expenditures for responsive launch services, according to Hart. “We’ve had quite an extensive engagement at all ranks of the executive branch, as well as with the Space Force, the legislative, the intelligence community, and key committees” in recent months, he said.

The company’s proposal is based on the notion that the United States’ current space launch assets are centralized at the Cape Canaveral, Florida, and that this concentration poses weaknesses.

“As a military capability, that’s not where you desire to be,” Hart added. “We grew up naturally as we grew up during the scientific era of space launch,” says the current launch infrastructure. However, there are also substantial drawbacks as an operational capability because it is sensitive not just to human efforts, but also to hurricanes.”

Virgin Orbit’s chief operating officer, Tony Gingiss, said the company is in talks with the Space Force about proving how it might launch on a 24-hour call.

According to Gingiss, another proposal being studied with Space Force is establishing “launch squadrons” of launch vehicles that are ready to go. “To be able to provide specific missions, we would have spacecraft already encased.”

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