The LauncherOne that Virgin Orbit will use for its first orbital launch attempt is now in Mojave, California, for final tests before a launch attempt later this fall. Credit: Virgin Orbit

WASHINGTON — VOX Space, a subsidiary of Virgin Orbit that focuses on the national security launch market, was awarded a $35 million contract for three dedicated launches to deliver 44 small satellites to low Earth orbit, the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center announced April 10.

VOX Space, based in El Segundo, California, will use the LauncherOne rocket. The contract is for the STP-S28 mission to provide orbital launch services for the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program. The STP-S28 experiments will be used by the Space Force to develop its future space architecture. The launch is tentatively planned for October 2021.

STP-S28 is the first contract awarded by the Space and Missile System Center’s Rocket Systems Launch Program for the Orbital Services Program-4.

OSP-4 is a nine-year procurement of launch services worth nearly $1 billion. The Space and Missile System Center in October announced eight companies were selected to compete for OSP-4 launch services. STP-S29 is the next mission task order projected to be awarded in late 2020.

The OSP-4 program is for the launch of small and medium payloads greater than 400 lbs. Providers have to be able to deliver these payloads to orbit within 12 to 24 months after receiving an order. The program is managed by the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise Small Launch and Targets Division at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.

One of the experiments in STP-S28 is QUEYSSAT, developed by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory and the Canadian Department of National Defence. The satellite will test adaptive optics and quantum communications.

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket has yet to perform its first flight. The rocket will be air-launched from a modified 747-400 “Cosmic Girl” carrier aircraft.

The company last month performed a taxi test at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The next step before the orbital launch will be a captive carry test flight with the rocket attached to the plane.

A spokesman said April 10 that Virgin Orbit and VOX Space are “in the midst of final preparations for an orbital launch demonstration expected soon.”

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...