Jeff Trauberman, vice president of government affairs for Virgin Orbit National Systems, recently spoke with ExecutiveBiz about his strategic goals for the coming year as well as recent partnerships to extend its position in the federal market to address the technology and innovation challenges of today during the latest Executive Spotlight interview.
You can read the full Executive Spotlight interview with Jeff Trauberman below:
ExecutiveBiz: What are your strategic goals for the coming year? What do you hope to accomplish and any new markets that you’re keeping an eye on in the federal sector?
Jeff Trauberman: “As the national security arm of Virgin Orbit, we’re a commercially financed responsive space launch company deploying small satellites from a 747 aircraft. Our system offers unique capabilities for the U.S. military during a critical time of growing threats to U.S. and allied space systems from nations such as China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and others.
We believe this ‘anytime, anywhere, unwarned’ launch capability offers new layers of resilience to the U.S. space architecture, which is so essential to support our nation’s worldwide military operations. In a peer-to-peer conflict, we need to ensure we can mitigate and offset the likely threats to our space systems. We think our innovative airborne launch system can do just that.
Space is an unforgiving and challenging sector littered with a variety of companies with grand ideas, but many characterized by flawed execution or inadequate delivery of capabilities.
Virgin Orbit National Systems is still a relatively new space launch company. We haven’t been without growing pains ourselves, but flawless execution remains our top strategic priority. And on that note, I’m proud to say we just completed our fourth consecutive successful airborne launch just a few weeks ago.
It was also our first launch at night, which was very exciting. We deployed seven Space Test Program satellites for the Department of Defense (DoD), bringing us to a total of thirty-three satellites launched, all successfully. We are very excited to continue delivering mission success to our Space Force customers.
Over the next 12 months, we have multiple launches on the books. Our very next launch will occur later this year from Spaceport Cornwall in the United Kingdom. Not only will this be our first launch in the U.K., it will be the first orbital launch ever from the British Isles.
The National Reconnaissance Office recently announced a partnership with the United Kingdom on the primary payload for this mission, so it represents a huge step forward in space collaboration between the United States and one of its closest allies. Sound execution of this new cooperative mission is among our top priorities.
One of the additional mission needs we’re pursuing is the ability to facilitate more responsive space capabilities for military customers–that is, the ability to launch and deploy spacecraft on timelines that are operationally relevant to the military combatant commanders overseeing land, sea and air forces. They’ve long had the ability to deploy their forces within their respective domains on very short timelines to address emerging crises or unexpected contingencies.
However, in the space domain that analogous capability doesn’t really exist. To date, the development and deployment of space capabilities take many months or even years. Responsive launch is only one part of the overall mission solution, but we’re trying to advance launch capabilities on much shorter timelines. We’re working to conduct launches in just a few days, or even a matter of hours, to benefit our military customers.
We think the ability to launch rapidly from diverse global locations—from any runway capable of handling a 747 aircraft–provides clear advantages to the military. It can surprise or confuse our adversaries, augment current space systems by enhancing support to combat operations, and reconstitute space capabilities that are damaged in a conflict.
We think this will improve overall space resiliency for the nation because, in a peer-to-peer military conflict, it is likely that US space systems will be threatened, degraded or destroyed.
In addition, we’re looking at new applications for our air launch system. We think such a system could help customers in the areas of hypersonic testing and missile defense target applications.”
ExecutiveBiz: How have recent partnerships been able to assist your company to expand its position in the federal marketplace, drive innovation and new capabilities and ultimately help complete your company’s mission?
Jeff Trauberman: “We’re pursuing partnerships in many different areas. For instance, one involves an expanded collaboration with U.S. allies, including the United Kingdom, as we discussed earlier.
This is fertile ground for Virgin Orbit because, while there are scores of countries with space programs, most of them don’t have the ability to launch their satellites indigenously. They have been relying on launches from other countries with a dedicated fixed launch facility. In our case, a flying launchpad can simply come to them.
This mobile launch capability has been very attractive for a number of U.S. allies, in addition to the United Kingdom. We’re forming new partnerships with Australia, Japan, Brazil as well as several European and Middle East allies.
You also asked about space traffic management. This is an overarching issue for the United States and many other countries. We’re all working on how to do that better. Space is actually a very big place, but that does not obviate the need for appropriate management of the growing traffic in space.
The Commerce Department in the United States, and various other parts of the federal government, are working to resolve how to do this better. Obviously, we don’t want satellites to collide with each other or create debris. We want space to be sustainable for the long term and Virgin Orbit seeks to be a valued partner with the US Government and its allies in this important mission.
ExecutiveBiz: What can you tell us about the company’s recent growth initiatives and how you’re driving value for your customers through contract awards, acquisitions and other aspects across the federal sector?
Jeff Trauberman: “Virgin Orbit has been working very hard to enable broader space solutions and other valuable services in cooperation with our other partners. These include space domain awareness, earth monitoring solutions and data analytics.
We are collaborating with leading industry partners to demonstrate responsiveness as well as ‘end to end’ space solutions in these disciplines. Virgin Orbit intends to bring valuable capability to the ultimate users.
Our objective is to show how a team of industry innovators can work together to enable responsive space solutions on very rapid timelines to support critical military operations. We believe a government, such as the United States, should be able to describe what type of capabilities are needed and when; in turn, an industry team can lead in the rapid implementation of the appropriate mission solutions.
We’ve been able to forge these innovative partnerships because the space ecosystem is growing and diversifying so rapidly. New small satellite companies as well as ground systems providers and data analytics firms have been able to raise capital and deploy capabilities that simply weren’t possible before, and they can do so at much lower price points.
The proliferation of low earth orbit or LEO satellite architectures is just one manifestation of this trend, which can also add another level of resilience to military space capabilities. Established space companies are also expanding into this mission area.
Virgin Orbit National Systems is just happy to be part of that overall ecosystem. The whole idea of implementing ‘space solutions’ by working with our industry partners to demonstrate end-to-end capabilities–validated by table-top exercises and analyses-will remain a top priority for us moving forward.”
ExecutiveBiz: With federal agencies working to implement the latest trends in technology such as AI, 5G, cloud and many others, what are your thoughts on the success and challenges that government agencies are dealing with to stay ahead of innovation to establish the U.S. as THE global leader?
Jeff Trauberman: “At Virgin Orbit National Systems, we are trying to take advantage of all these technology trends, including artificial intelligence, cloud computing, advanced manufacturing, and more. Much of that goes into the way we manufacture the rocket and how we can keep build times and costs low while keeping performance and reliability high.
We’re incorporating new technologies into the manufacture of our launch system. We’re using additive manufacturing and specialized machining to create a rocket with fewer piece parts, simplified processes and higher reliability than traditional manufacturing methods.
Other key benefits to emerging technology come from the rapidly increasing scope of missions that can be accomplished with lightweight, affordable satellites – today, a satellite the size of a toaster oven can do what used to take a satellite the size of a minivan. And still other technologies are bringing automation and machine intelligence to the way that we sort, interpret and act upon the data we receive from satellites.
The good news is that American ingenuity and its free market economy continue to produce globally competitive technology, which allows US commercial space firms to lead the world in these areas.
I’m very confident and optimistic about our ability to leverage new technologies for the benefit of our US government customers, commercial customers and US allies. By collaborating closely with these customers, we think Virgin Orbit can continue to support these diverse customer sets with the most responsive, reliable and affordable launcher long into the future.”