Virgin Group founder Richard Branson's space ambitions have expanded from tourism to launching satellites. Branson touted on Thursday the quick turnaround capability that rocket launcher Virgin Orbit may soon be able to provide the U.S. military.
"From the government's point of view, if satellites got lost in any conflict in the future, God forbid, we're about the only company in the world that could replace them in 24 hours," Branson said in an interview with CNBC's Morgan Brennan.
Branson met with Air Force leadership two weeks ago to discuss the capabilities of Virgin Orbit, which is building small rockets. Virgin Orbit is in the late stages of testing its LauncherOne rocket, which the company plans to launch from a modified Boeing 747 jet named "Cosmic Girl." This horizontal method, rather than the more common vertical launch approach, gives Virgin Orbit more flexibility for when and where the company launches its rockets.
Small rockets can save customers months of time getting to orbit, and the Air Force sees that as a key advantage. Typically priced between $3 million and $10 million per launch, small rockets provide a direct method of sending inexpensive payloads into orbit.
One of the Air Force officials Branson met with was Dr. Will Roper, who is the military branch's acquisition head.
"I am very excited about small launch," Roper said last week. "If you lose a satellite, put another one up at the time you need it."
Roper described the space industry as a "ripe area" for the Air Force, especially "with companies that hope to be selling satellites to commercial providers."
Branson added that the military wouldn't "have to wait 6 months for a land-based rocket to take off" if it needs to replace a satellite.
"There are lots of things like that I think we can do in working with governments," Branson said.