Another day, another billionaire’s space travel company. This time it is Richard Branson, who is expanding with his third space-based company in Vox Orbit. Vox Orbit’s particular niche will be commercial and government contracts.
Based out of southern California, “Vox Space provides the national security community of the USA and allied nations with responsive, dedicated, and affordable launch services for small satellites bound for Low Earth Orbit,” according to its website. However, an insider tells TechCrunch that business “will be roughly 90 percent commercial and 10 percent government.”
The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Virgin Orbit, which itself is a spin-off of Virgin Galactic, founded more than a decade ago with the goal of selling suborbital spaceflights to tourists. That company has been making steady progress towards its goal, earlier this year its SpaceShipTwo conducted its sixth successful glide test.
Branson’s two other companies deal in decidedly less sexy endeavors. Virgin Orbit, also founded earlier this year, is dedicated to launch services for small satellites. Vox Space will provide “study, analysis, integration, and launch services using Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne” to governments and contractors. There’s also a fourth company, The Spaceship Company, which does craft manufacturing.
The competition for government contracts, which can hit around $100 million per year, has grown exponentially. In the United States, what was once solely the domain of United Launch Alliance has expanded to become a competition between ULA and Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Branson wants to expand the playing field even further. While SpaceX works towards space tourism and handles government contracts under the same banner, Branson seems to prefer a dividing line.
SpaceX will have the advantage in terms of sheer strength. A SpaceX Flacon 9 rockets can of carry over 50,000 pounds to low-Earth orbit while Vox Space’s technology can only haul around 400 pounds. But the company will rely on technology radically different from SpaceX’s, and more similar to an airplane’s take off, to make its case.
The Saudi government’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) has recently announced that it was investing $1 billion into Virgin’s various space efforts, including Virgin Orbit. Some of that money might be just what Vox Space needs to get off the ground and flying.