Virgin Orbit subsidiary VOX Space will launch dozens of small satellites into space for the Space Force’s Orbital Services Program-4, under a $35 million contract.
For OSP-4’s first round of launches, dubbed Space Test Program-S28, VOX Space will deliver 44 satellites to low Earth orbit across three launches starting in October 2021. Onboard will be a range of experimental technologies that will further the military’s progress in areas like space domain awareness and communications.
“One such payload is QUEYSSAT, the No. 10 ranked [DOD Space Experiments Review Board] experiment and a cooperative effort between the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory and the Canadian Department of National Defence,” the Space and Missile Systems Center said in an April 10 release. “This experiment will demonstrate and quantify the potential to improve Earth-satellite quantum channel uplinks via adaptive optics, expand quantum network concepts, and exploit this capability for defense applications.”
VOX Space says it has demonstrated all of its major LauncherOne components and is preparing for an orbital launch demonstration soon. VOX Space and Virgin Orbit launch a Boeing 747-400 plane named “Cosmic Girl,” which carries the LauncherOne rocket up to around 35,000 feet before shooting the payload into low Earth orbit.
“With the space domain more contested than ever, it’s crucial that we find ways to enable those responsible for space security to act quickly and effectively. Ultimately, we believe that affordable and responsive launch helps keep everyone safer—in part by creating a major disincentive for adversaries to work against existing satellites and space systems,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart.
OSP-4 aims to launch 20 missions over nine years, with payloads heavier than 400 pounds, starting with STP-S28. It is one way the Space Force is trying to shorten the time it takes to put payloads on orbit, by launching systems no later than two years after a task order is issued instead of waiting several years. OSP-4 will also carry missions for the Space Development Agency.
SMC plans to award a contract for the next batch of launches, including STP-29, by the end of 2020. The pool of OSP-4 launch providers that could handle that mission includes Aevum, Firefly Black, Northrop Grumman, Rocket Lab, SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, VOX Space, and X-Bow Launch Systems.