Virgin Orbit, headed by Richard Branson, has come up with a new firm called Vox Space. This new company will attempt to compete with giants such as United Launch Alliance for U.S. military launch contracts as well as SpaceX.
The company is set to be based in Manhattan Beach, California, and will aim to provide launch services to “the national security community of the USA and allied nations,” according to a website for the company.
According to Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart, Virgin orbit is concerned with the government’s space launch endeavours. The company realises the need for government to utilise commercial services to accentuate US leadership in space.
Virgin Group has two space subdivisions: Virgin Orbit and Virgin Galactic. The latter was founded in 2004, and it aims to send paying customers out into space on a spacecraft named SpaceShipTwo, through a launcher plane called White Knight Two. However, three years ago, the outfit faced a major mishap when a pilot died in a test flight. Nevertheless, Virgin Galactic has bounced back in recent months.
On the other hand, Virgin Orbit is aiming to send small-sized satellite to space through an improved Boeing 747, named Cosmic Girl, and a rocket, dubbed LauncherOne.
Private companies, at a growing rate, have begun utilising the now openly available satellite technologies. Most of these companies are searching for ways to get their rockets into orbit, and Virgin Orbit (among others) is trying to satiate these demands.
However, the US government is extremely careful about which launch vehicle might transmit protected national security payloads into space.
According to the US government, there are current only two companies that are up to the task: ULA, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin (LMT) and Boeing (BA), and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
With the launch of Vox Space, Branson is making it very clear that he intends to compete with ULA and SpaceX for cut in this market, which can prove to be extremely profitable. For ever launch, the US military can remunerate up to $100 million or more.
According to its website, Vox Space will not develop new technology, but the company will ensure that the government receives LauncherOne services and that their customer’s sensitive information is safeguarded.
Vox Space’s technology is vastly different from ULA’s and SpaceX’s. Instead of having rockets that take off from a launch pad in a vertical manner, Vox Space plans to lift off planes from which rockets would be launched mid-air. However, one limitation to Vox Space’s technology is that it does not have the capacity to carry payloads heavier than 400 pounds.