DoD Buys Ride On Virgin’s New Satellite Launcher

The U.S. Department of Defense has purchased its first flight on LauncherOne, Virgin Orbit's new satellite-launching rocket, the company said Nov. 16.

Under an other-transaction-agreement (OTA) award from the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center and the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx), the launch will occur as early as January 2019, Virgin said. The Long Beach, Calif.-based firm recently created a subsidiary, VOX Space LLC, to serve such national security customers.

A LauncherOne rocket leaves a Virgin Orbit factory. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

A LauncherOne rocket leaves a Virgin Orbit factory. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

The launch will involve “technology demonstration satellites” and will give DoD a chance to try out the new rocket, Virgin said.

While the OTA's exact value was not disclosed, William Pomerantz, vice president of special projects at Virgin Orbit, said "the typical pricing for a LauncherOne mission is $12 million to $14 million for a flight. The range there reflects different customer requirements,” such as for the launch site or payload accommodations.

Virgin is developing the two-stage rocket to launch small satellites to low Earth orbit. LauncherOne will be fired from Cosmic Girl, a modified Boeing [BA] 747-400. The mobile launch pad will allow launches to occur "from many locations in order to best serve each customer's needs," according to Virgin, one of several new entrants in the small-satellite launch business.

Cosmic Girl has begun flight testing, and LauncherOne’s first flight is slated for the first half of 2018.

Earlier this month, Virgin shipped a LauncherOne from its Long Beach factory to a Mojave site for ground testing. The rocket is “complete … minus only fins and fairing,” the company said.





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