With increase in number of small rockets being built by private companies, US military seems more and more interested in investing in space startups. Last month, Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, met with Air Force leadership for discussing capabilities of Virgin Orbit, the small rocket builder of Branson. Secretary Heather Wilson, top civilian of Air Force, and Branson met on January 17. Branson also met acquisition head of Air Force, Dr. Will Roper, who expressed his excitement about the launch. Each small rocket launch is priced between $3m-$10m and provides direct methods of sending into orbit inexpensive payloads. It also saves customers a lot of time getting to orbits. As companies hope to sell satellites to commercial providers, space industry serves as a ‘ripe area’ for Air Force. Roper plans on approaching this in the same way as business developers or venture capital firms would for better understanding of requirements of private space firms.
More and more private space companies like Virgin Orbit are planning on seizing upon the market of small rockets. The company is presently involved deeply into testing of its LauncherOne rocket. The company is looking to launch it from ‘Cosmic Girl’, a modified Boeing 747 jet. The horizontal method is expected to give Virgin Orbit greater flexibility for where and when the firm launches its rockets, as compared to the more common and conventional vertical launch approach.
Rocket Lab is another company that is being watched by the Air Force, said Roper, as they are ‘pushing small launch’. They have already launched into orbit 3 of its Electron rockets during the previous year which included a NASA mission in the month of December. This year, the company plans on launching 16 missions which includes a dedicated satellite for DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) during late-February.