A complete LauncherOne rocket (minus fins and fairing) in transport from Virgin Orbit’s Long Beach factory to its Mojave test facility. Photo courtesy of Virgin Orbit.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has awarded an agreement for a prototype flight with Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne, the Long Beach-based company announced this week.
The DoD Space Test Program (STP) is now on track for a primary launch which is expected to take place as early as January 2019 through VOX Space LLC, a new independent subsidiary of Virgin Orbit created to provide dedicated service to the government national security market. The STP, executed by the Space and Missile System Center’s Advanced Systems Development Directorate, awarded the launch via an “Other Transaction” agreement by partnering with Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx), the release stated.
“We are honored and excited to provide the capabilities of Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne to STP, and the Department of Defense, facilitated by DIUx,” Mandy Vaughn, president of VOX Space, said in a statement. “LauncherOne’s high-rate manufacturing capability and air-launched operations have already brought some very attractive service benefits to the commercial community, and with this contract our servicemen and women can now begin to experience those same benefits.”
Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne, consisting of a two-stage expendable rocket and a reusable air launch platform, is in development at its Long Beach-based headquarters. Virgin Orbit recently completed assembly of a pathfinder rocket at the 180,000-square-foot factory, while the system’s 747-400 flying launch pad has begun its flight test campaign. The system is designed to provide affordable flights to Low Earth Orbit to small satellites, with the initial LauncherOne flight targeted for the first half of next year.
“The ability to rapidly replenish space capabilities will contribute to maintaining outer space as a peaceful resource available for the benefit of planet Earth,” Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said in a statement. “I am excited that, with the creation of VOX Space, the incredible responsiveness and affordability of LauncherOne is now available to the national security market. Under Mandy’s excellent leadership, VOX Space brings a critical service to a very important segment of the market.”
This prototype launch will be used to fly technology demonstration satellites and allow the DoD to consider LauncherOne as a method to delivering Space Experiment Review Board payloads to orbit, according to the release. The launch will also demonstrate the LauncherOne service’s rapid call-up and ultra-high flexibility.
“We are looking forward to demonstrating a new and better way to do space launch and appreciate the innovation and creativity being demonstrated by the Department of Defense,” stated Vaughn.