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US Space Force awards contract for satellite launch services

Illustration; Photo: VOX Space

The US Space Force has awarded VOX Space a $35 million task order deliver 44 small satellites to low earth orbit as part of the Space Test Program-S28 (STP-S28) launch service.

STP-S28 is a complex mission designed to deliver a number of technology demonstrations to orbit, such as Space Domain Awareness and communications advancement, and inform future space system development.

VOX Space, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Virgin Orbit, will perform a total of three launches of the LauncherOne rocket, with the first one tentatively planned for October 2021.

LauncherOne is an expendable launch vehicle designed to place small satellites of up to 500 kg into low Earth orbits (LEO). Rather than launching from the ground, LauncherOne is carried to an altitude of approximately 35,000 feet by the 747-400 carrier aircraft

“The competitive award of the STP-S28 task order is a prime example of the flexible and responsive contracting processes the Launch Enterprise is using to deliver resilient and affordable space capabilities to our Nation,” said Col. Rob Bongiovi, director of SMC’s Launch Enterprise at Los Angeles Air Force Base. “In today’s contested space domain, contracts must be flexible and responsive to meet the challenges facing the warfighter. I’m proud of the work the Small Launch and Targets Division accomplished in awarding the STP-S28 task order in only five months using the OSP-4 contract.”

The STP-S28 mission will provide orbital launch services for the Pentagon’ Space Test Program. The program furthers the maturation of space-based warfighter technologies across the DoD enterprise by providing space access solutions for all research and development-related DoD auxiliary payloads on DoD, civil and commercial launches, and for all non-DoD auxiliary payloads seeking launch opportunities on DoD missions.

STP will provide payloads for STP-S28 via the DoD Space Experiments Review Board (SERB), as well as provide a number of International and Rideshare experiments. One such payload is QUEYSSAT, the number 10 ranked SERB experiment and a cooperative effort between the US Air Force Research Laboratory and the Canadian Department of National Defence.

This experiment will demonstrate and quantify the potential to improve Earth-satellite quantum channel uplinks via adaptive optics, expand quantum network concepts and exploit this capability for defense applications. QUEYSSAT is illustrative of the technology demonstrations capable via the small satellites that will be launched with this mission as well as demonstrates one of the nearly 20 different organizations STP will partner with.

“We are excited to partner with VOX Space and believe the STP-S28 mission will showcase industry innovation, international partnering and provide a gateway to work with some of the newest, leading-edge entrants for emerging small launch service providers. With our small launch contracts we are able to take more risks and move quickly to produce high rewards and tactically responsive launch capabilities for combatant commanders,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Rose, chief of the Small Launch and Targets Division at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. “This program provides the perfect opportunity to highlight SMC’s ability to streamline procurement and mission execution, foster innovation, and preserve the best chance for mission success.”

STP-S29 is the next mission task order Rose’s team is working. They are currently in the requirements development phase and project an award by the end of 2020.