Military Capabilities

US Air Force sees increased future emphasis on small launch

08 February 2019

The USAF will likely place more emphasis on small launch companies such as Vector Space Systems due to their responsiveness, or their ability to launch satellites on short notice. Source: Vector

Key Points

  • The US Air Force sees a growing future emphasis on small-launch capabilities
  • It likes the idea of waiting until as late as possible to launch an asset, giving adversaries less time to plan against it

The US Air Force (USAF) will likely place more emphasis on small launch as capabilities develop due to their responsiveness, or ability to quickly replenish assets, according to a key official.

Will Roper, USAF assistant secretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics, told reporters on 6 February that the service seeks better responsiveness in launch because it adds an element of surprise. He said that responsiveness in launch allows the USAF to launch a space asset later, as opposed to earlier, reducing time for an adversary to develop a plan to take out the asset.

Companies from Vector Space Systems to Virgin Orbit and Rocket Lab are working on innovative small-launch capabilities. Virgin Orbit seeks to launch horizontally while airborne while Vector aims to be able to launch without traditional launch infrastructure. Rocket Lab is pioneering a tailored, responsive service.

“When we’re talking about putting a satellite up from a large airliner, that looks like something that you could imagine having on runway alert and being able to put up the day you need it,” Roper said. “I like the idea of us working with small launch industry as more of a responsive launch.”

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