VOX Space will launch 44 technology demonstrator satellites into orbit for the U.S. Space Force, the Space and Missile Systems Center announced April 10.

Under the $35 million task order, VOX Space, a wholly owned subsidiary of Virgin Orbit, will provide launch services for Space Test Program-S28 (STP-S28), an effort to put demonstrator satellites on orbit to test and develop new space situational awareness and communications technologies for the military.

VOX Space will launch the 44 small satellites into low earth orbit using three of their LauncherOne rockets. Unlike traditional launches where the rockets start from a vertical position on a pad, the LauncherOne rockets are launched in midair from a Boeing 747 aircraft. The first launch is tentatively slated for October 2021.

While four companies are battling for five years of contracts under the National Security Space Launch effort, which will place the country’s large exquisite satellites on orbit, the U.S. military and the intelligence community have looked to exploit the growing commercial small launch market under new contracting mechanisms.

For instance, the National Reconnaissance Office has begun using its new “rapid acquisition of a small rocket” contract vehicle in 2020, successfully launching its first payload under that program with Rocket Lab in January. A second planned launch with Rocket Lab slated for March was delayed due to the COVID-19 situation.

The VOX Space award is the first task order under Orbital Services Program-4 — an indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract awarded to eight companies by the Space and Missile Systems Center in October.

OSP-4 is a follow-on to OSP-3, which expired in November. Like it’s predecessor, OSP-4 is the Defense Department’s effort to leverage the growing commercial small launch market to put government payloads on orbit. The program enables the launch of payloads greater than 400 pounds to any orbit within 12-24 months after a task order is awarded. Last year, the Air Force said it expected to use OSP-4 to launch 20 missions over a nine-year period.

“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 Systems Directorate. “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.”

Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.

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