USAF considers investment in private small launch industry

11 February 2019 (Last Updated February 11th, 2019 11:30)

The US Air Force (USAF) has reportedly shown interest in investing in space start-ups to gain a foothold in the small launch industry during a meeting of top military officials with Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson.

The US Air Force (USAF) has reportedly shown interest in investing in space start-ups to gain a foothold in the small launch industry during a meeting of top military officials with Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson.

At the meeting held at the Pentagon last month, USAF acquisition head Dr Will Roper expressed interest in small launch, reported CNBC.

Roper was quoted as saying: “I am very excited about small launch. I think small launch is going to be a big deal.”

Small rockets are known for the relatively low cost per launch, estimated to be between $3m and $10m.

He added: “If you lose a satellite, put another one up at the time you need it.”

Roper also noted that the airforce should think like a venture capital firm to understand the requirements of private space companies.

“The start-up launched three lightweight orbital rockets known as Electron to orbit last year, including a mission for Nasa in December.”

He added: “If we can understand what a company needs to get from being that entrant, at ten people with an idea and designs, to getting to that first product that they can go sell or pitch … we’ve got huge money to invest in this.”

Branson discussed the capabilities of his small rocket builder Virgin Orbit with top USAF leaders.

Established in 2017, Virgin Orbit plans to provide launch services for small satellites. The company’s LauncherOne rocket is in its testing phase and is planned to be launched from a modified Boeing 747 jet.

Another small launch company Rocket Lab has also caught the attention of Roper who said the company is ‘pushing small launch’.

The start-up launched three lightweight orbital rockets known as Electron to orbit last year, including a mission for Nasa in December.

This year, Rocket Lab aims to launch 16 missions, including a dedicated satellite for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) later this month.