Virgin Orbit bullish on national security launch

CEO Dan Hart: “We have had a fairly extensive dialogue at all levels of the executive and with the Space Force and the intelligence community”

WASHINGTON – Virgin Orbit predicts that more than 40% of the company’s business by 2026 will be spent on national security and defense.

Virgin Orbit is launching small satellites from rockets that deploy from a Boeing 747. The company has already won a handful of contracts to launch US military satellites and is actively pursuing new business in the national security market, executives said Nov. 17 at an Investors Day event.

The company’s next mission scheduled for early to mid-December will launch the US Space Force STP-VP27B satellite along with other commercial payloads.

Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said “national security in particular is a major goal”.

The LauncherOne air rocket can fly small satellites into low Earth orbit from almost any airport, giving Virgin Orbit an edge at a time when space becomes a battlefield, Hart said. “This week, of course, we witnessed a sad event in which the Russians decided to demonstrate an anti-satellite weapon and detonated one of their own satellites, sending the message that no satellite was ‘is safe in space. “

If ever American satellites were attacked and the Pentagon were to deploy new ones quickly, an air vehicle capable of providing short-term service would be a valuable asset, he said. “The ability to launch from anywhere is extremely important if a satellite is incapacitated or attacked,” he added. “If we can demonstrate that we can set up a satellite on a regular basis from anywhere and at any time, this really deters countries from investing in these types of weapons.

Hart said Virgin Orbit pushed the U.S. government to increase budgets for responsive launch services. Over the past few months, “we have had a fairly extensive dialogue at all levels of the executive and with the Space Force, the intelligence community, as well as the legislature and key committees,” he said. .

The company’s case is based on the idea that current US space launch assets are concentrated in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and that such centralization creates vulnerabilities.

“It’s not where you want to be as a military capability,” Hart said. The current launch infrastructure “has grown naturally as we have grown in the scientific age of space launch. But as an operational capability, there are significant drawbacks as it is vulnerable, not only to human efforts, but to hurricanes. “

Tony Gingiss, chief operating officer of Virgin Orbit, said the company is discussing with the Space Force the demonstration of how it could perform a launch on a 24-hour drive.

Another idea being discussed with the Space Force is to create “launch squadrons” of out-of-the-box launch vehicles, Gingiss said. “We would have satellites already encapsulated to be able to carry out certain missions. “

A new plane next year

If Virgin Orbit achieves its planned mission in December, it will have completed three launches in 2021. It aims for six next year and 18 in 2023.

To support the additional business, Virgin Orbit is looking to reduce the production cycle of a LauncherOne from one year to six months. She also plans to purchase a second carrier plane next year to complement her current Boeing 747 dubbed Cosmic Girl.

Hart said it could be another 747 or a freighter, depending on what is available in the market. A freighter would be preferable as it could carry two rockets and payloads, making it more suited to national security missions.

Commercially, Hart has announced a new partnership with Astroscale, a provider of satellite maintenance and debris removal services. Astroscale said it is in talks with Virgin Orbit to launch up to 10 of the company’s missions over the next decade. The two companies are also considering a joint mission focused on satellite maintenance.

Hart said the Russian anti-satellite test and the debris problem it created is a “difficulty we don’t need. And we don’t want this to be the way we make business happen.”

Virgin Orbit plans to go public through a merger with Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) NextGen Acquisition Corp. Hart said the transaction is still under regulatory review and he could not comment on when the transaction may close.

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