Branson: Speedy Satellite Replacement Can Deter Cyber War in Space

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson speaks with AFA Chairman and former Air Force Secretary F. Whitten Peters appear in conversation on Sept. 16, 2019, as part of AFA's 2019 Air, Space & Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md. Staff photo by Mike Tsukamoto.

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson on Sept. 16 suggested that the ability to replace downed low-Earth orbit satellites in a day or less—a capability he told CNBC earlier this year that Virgin Orbit aspires to possess–could make them less desirable targets for enemy states and, thus, deter “the sort of cyber war in space that we all fear.”

“Were there to be a conflict in the Middle East and somebody knocked out all the satellites in that area, by having a 747 that can just take off at, you know, four or five hours notice, and have a rocket attached under the wing, drop it, and put a new satellite into space, hopefully it’ll be a deterrent to an enemy state to knock out satellites in the first place, if they know that America or Great Britain has the capability of replacing satellites within 24 hours,” he told AFA Chairman and former Air Force Secretary F. Whitten Peters during an onstage conversation at the Air Force Association’s 2019 Air, Space & Cyber Conference.

Branson said this speedy solution can also make networks more reliable by eliminating the need for network disruptions when LEO satellites, which “fall out of the sky every four or five years,” need to be replaced. ASC 2019 is Sept. 16-18 in National Harbor, Md., just outside of Washington, D.C.