There has been quite a buzz lately about responsive launches, and we will proudly take the credit. Recent articles in both SpaceNews and DefenseNews acknowledge this need and cite Virgin Orbit uniquely positioned responsive launch technology as an important player in national defense, and for good reason.
Coming off flawless back-to-back launch performances – including one for the Department of Defense – Virgin Orbit and Virgin Orbit’s subsidiary, VOX Space are becoming known as providers of the world’s most affordable and responsive launch capability: the mobile, highly flexible LauncherOne system.
Virgin Orbit’s air-launched platform can take off from any runway long enough to handle a Boeing 747. This means that launch can be moved away from vulnerable, highly visible, fixed infrastructure sites (where, in addition to being watched by bad actors, inclement weather can delay launches for days at a time). Designed for mass production, we can generate as many as 20 launches per year from our fully operational factory.
At Virgin Orbit, we know that air launch has an enormous role to play in the future of responsive space, a capability that top government leaders say will deter enemies and boost national security. VOX Space President Mark Baird, a retired U.S. Air Force Brigadier General and former Principal Director of Strategy for Lockheed Martin, describes our launch service as something that can happen “anywhere, anytime, and unwarned.”
Rapid, dynamic launches offer customers launch capability within hours or days of call-up – a substantial deviation from legacy operations. Payloads can be delivered into any orbit or inclination required or desired, from non-traditional locations that defy surveillance and observation. Confusing adversary space characterization capabilities affords the U.S. and Allies time and space to maneuver.
The Department of Defense calls this “tactically responsive launch.” As cited in SpaceNews, Congress has been keenly interested in this program and is pressing DoD to fund it. “Having the means to replace satellites in orbit quickly during a crisis is a capability that could help deter enemies from launching attacks against U.S. space systems,” said Baird when interviewed for the article. “In a previous life when I was focusing on space superiority capabilities, this is what I kept arguing that we need.”
National security leadership agrees and has been saying so publicly: responsive launch capability provides a critical path to enhancing security and stability in both outer space and on planet Earth.
In a U.S. Space Command release issued earlier this summer, U.S. Army Gen. James Dickinson, USSPACECOM commander, said, “During conflict, the ability to rapidly reconstitute degraded systems within hours forces adversaries to rethink the economic benefit of attacking on-orbit assets. This capability allows USSPACECOM to provide warfighters continuous access to space-based capabilities for multi-domain overmatch.”
Robert Cardillo, former Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, wrote in a recent op-ed that “the U.S. requires a responsive, resilient, disaggregated launch solution.” “Our adversaries aren’t waiting for us to get this right. The DoD must invest the necessary resources and attention toward standing up a mature, operationalized responsive launch capability. It must conduct a regular cadence of operational demonstrations to develop necessary concepts of operations. It needs to invest in the required infrastructure that enables launch from anywhere, anytime.”
Cardillo concludes his article by stating, “If the U.S. is going to effectively defend against adversaries in future conflicts in space, collaborative action to institutionalize responsive launch must start now.”
It is a matter of national policy to invest in flexible, tactically responsive space solutions. The urgency is only accelerating. The U.S. National Defense Strategy directs the DoD to “prioritize investments in … reconstitution [to] assure our space capabilities.” In addition, the U.S. National Space Policy dictates that the secretary of defense “develop … rapid launch options to reinforce or to reconstitute priority national security space capabilities in times of crisis and conflict and that, when practicable and appropriate, leverage commercial capabilities.”
The United States Congress aligns with these directives. The 2022 defense legislation (National Defense Authorization Act; NDAA) would revise the language in the 2021 bill “to require the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, to support the tactically responsive launch program.”
Policies that encourage and support innovative and affordable responsive space capabilities, both on the launch side and for the spacecraft and their ground segments, are vital to ensure that space can continue to play an enormous role helping people right here on planet Earth.
Our dedicated team is working each day to further develop the ability to protect and replace our space assets. We stand ready to work with government leaders in the US and our Allies to turn the responsive launch vision into reality.