Virgin's VOX Space Has Won a New Contract With The U.S. Space Force
April 29, 2020
The company announced that VOX has won a new contract with the U.S. Space Force and is getting ready to move from testing to full operations. The Space Force contract is for 3 launches and is valued at $35 million. The company will launch payloads for the Defense Department’s Space Test Program which consists of technology demonstrations in low Earth orbit. There will be more than 36 satellites launched allowing advancements in space domain awareness and communications while informing future developments of USSF space architecture.
These launches like other launches planned for the UK and Israel governments are not imminent. VOX is still in the testing stage but expects to put payloads into orbit in 2021.
VOX and Virgin Orbit are different from other launch providers, their launch vehicles consist of a rocket strapped to the belly of a 747. This somewhat promising but unproven technique would enable a highly mobile and responsive launch that can take off from just about anywhere with a runway.
After years of testing and engineering, the airplane “Cosmic Girl” and rocket stage “LauncherOne” will take the payload to orbit and they are both just about ready to make their debut.
The company is getting ready for one more rehearsal in the “cryogenic captive carry flight” which is almost exactly as it would be during an actual launch including supercooling liquid in the rocket’s fixed tanks but they stop short of detaching and firing the rocket’s engines.
The full burn and first orbital payload will be saved for the Launch Demo which is planned for later on this year.
Unfortunately, the global pandemic has not exactly made things easier for the company. On a blog post regarding the readiness for the next test, the company said:
When the pandemic reached their home in California, they sent all their staff home with full pay and gave them a week to prepare for the many changes that were coming their way and their families. They are giving themselves all the needed time to design an entirely new way of working.
They reconfigured their Mission Control, rewrote procedures for their technicians on the shop floor and at the test site to meet all social distancing requirements. They are already accustomed to using Personal Protective Equipment during many of their operations but now are stepping up their standards to match the latest guidelines from the CDC and other medical experts. They are spending extra time to sterilize every square-inch of their manufacturing facility ad constantly educating their staff and many more needed activities.
They have a strong plan for safe operations in place and began bringing essential teammates back on the site but they continue to have as much as 90% of their staff working remotely.
Just like many industries, their existing plans have been disrupted and timing is up in the air for now. We do expect to hear more about VOX’s final tests and first commercial launch as soon as is possible.