A Conversation with Former Senior DoD Leaders on Responsive Space

Recently, the Virgin Orbit team had the incredible privilege to sit down with Dr. Ash Carter, former United States Secretary of Defense, Admiral Dennis Blair, Former Director of National Intelligence and Commander of Pacific Command and Lt. Gen. Susan Helms, Former Commander of the U.S. Joint Functional Component Command for Space and U.S. Astronaut, to discuss the importance of responsive launch capabilities to U.S. National Security. 

The current space posture of the United States and our allies is vulnerable to attacks that could be launched rapidly – and take too long to respond to. Peer competitors understand our reliance on space capabilities and are preparing to counter them. As more nations establish and expand their space capabilities, bad actors will try to weaponize an area that ought to be a sanctuary for exploration and research. Unfortunately, there have already been examples of this. 

As Sec. Carter explained to our team in this interview: “If you can put a satellite in space, then you can put a bomb in space.”

Virgin Orbit National Systems, our subsidiary that focuses on providing the national security community of the U.S. and its allies with responsive, dedicated and affordable launch services, is collaborating with private and governmental entities to utilize Virgin Orbit’s unique air launch system to provide adequate countermeasures against space-based threats in order to contribute to a layered protection posture. 

The unique flexibility in launch site, inclination, as well as weather resistance and minimum range restrictions that horizontal launch provides over traditional land launch has many benefits. In terms of national security, it means that the United States and our allies can deter aggressive behavior in space by characterizing and attributing potential threats and providing response options to mitigate them.

Both Sec. Carter and General Susan Helms agree that horizontal launch is an ideal way to provide an effective response because of its mobile nature and imperviousness to most weather conditions. 

Gen. Helms said that existing space stations such as Cape Canaveral are so well known that they could be vulnerable in the event that the United States mainland were attacked. Inclement weather could also hamper space stations to provide a platform for an effective, timely responsive launch. 

“The idea of an airplane that can fly thousands of miles and then launch a satellite provides a tremendous advantage,” said ADM Blair. 

New technological advances have been made to facilitate rapid air launch capability for military satellites, but it needs to be fully operationalized. 

“The sooner the better,” Sec. Carter said. 

As recent events have demonstrated, space is no longer the sanctuary that it once was. Virgin Orbit is proud to be proactive in efforts to ensure readiness in the face of unwarranted aggression in the space domain. 

After all, the most important mission should be safeguarding national security for planet Earth and beyond.