Virgin Orbit to Enter the Commercial Space Race

Virgin Orbit to Enter the Commercial Space Race

The commercial space race is about to get even more interesting. With companies like SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA) leading the way, American industry is headed back into space. Now, though, the race has to set another place at the table. Richard Branson’s space exploration company, Virgin Orbit recently announced a new spinoff company, Vox Space, which will compete to offer launch services to “the USA and allied nations.”

Vox Only Has 10 Employees

They have a long way to go if they plan to truly compete. Vox Space has less than ten employees and just launched a website, not a rocket. But don’t count Branson and his team out quite yet. Speaking to CNN, Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said, “At Virgin Orbit, we want to be responsive to the space launch goals of our government and the need to make more use of commercial services to further expand America’s leadership in space… between Virgin Orbit and our subsidiary VOX Space, we are well positioned to serve all parts of the market…”

That has yet to be seen. To date, Branson’s space empire includes two companies: Virgin Orbit and Virgin Galactic. One is planning to send customers into space. The other plans to carry small satellites into space. So far, neither company has seen the success earned by SpaceX.

Back in 2014, a Virgin Galactic pilot was killed during a test flight. Three years along, that company is just getting back to conducting test flights. Meanwhile, Virgin Orbit is in the “preparation stages” for its LauncherOne rocket.

Branson Hopes to Compete

While there are a growing number of commercial or consumer applications, there’s no doubt that defense and military contracts are still where the space flight bread is buttered. At this point, Branson’s companies do not have a seat at that table, which is dominated by SpaceX and ULA. But Branson hopes to change that, and all indications point to his companies preparing for the long haul rather than the short race.

And it may well be a very long haul. At this point, the technology gap between SpaceX and Virgin is significant, with the former’s basic capabilities far outstripping the latter. But that doesn’t mean Virgin’s services won’t be in demand on some smaller jobs. Branson has built a reputation for doing things differently than the competition, no matter what, and winning. So, a different approach to the space race is hardly any reason to count him out now.

Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.

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