Virgin Orbit representatives have revealed that the launch provider has secured the first contract for their LauncherOne vehicle. The contract has been awarded by the U.S. Air Force’s Space Test Program in partnership with the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) as part of an other transactions agreement.
The launch, which is expected as early as January 2019 will carry an array of Space Test Programs payloads for the U.S. Defense Department.
With the announcement of their Defense Department contract, Virgin Orbit announced the formation of a new subsidiary, VOX Space. This, of course in addition to Richard Branson’s other Aerospace subsidiary, Virgin Galactic. VOX Space will be used to bid and deliver on all national security launch customers. The move is to ensure the company has security experts in place to deal with what it hopes will be a steady stream of national security payload launch contracts.
Although the LauncherOne is yet to make its maiden flight, Virgin Orbit representatives have revealed that development of the vehicle is progressing as planned. The company hopes to complete its first launch in the first half of 2018. The LauncherOne’s maiden flight will carry a test payload.
Unlike many other launch vehicles, LauncherOne will hitch a ride aboard the company’s “mobile air launch pad”, Cosmic Girl. Essentially, the Virgin Orbit launch vehicle will be strapped under the left wing of a modified 747-400 and carried to an altitude of around 10,000 meters (35,000 feet). The LauncherOne will then be released and its first stage boosters ignited. A more traditional first stage cutoff will then preceed the second stage ignition that will power the vehicle into orbit.
Development of Virgin Orbit’s “mobile air launch pad”, Cosmic Girl is in its final stages. Previously used as a Virgin Atlantic passenger plane, the 747 is currently undergoing flight tests and modifications.
Image Credit: Virgin Orbit