Virgin Galactic Sets Plan to Launch Commercial Satellites into Orbit
By James Shillinglaw
July 11, 2012 10:26 PM
Virgin Galactic, which has been developing vehicles to put space tourists into orbit, apparently is also going into the commercial space launch game. On July 11 during the Farnborough International Air, it unveiled LauncherOne, a new air-launched rocket specifically designed to deliver small satellites into orbit.
With substantial funding already raised from Virgin Galactic's partner, aabar Investments PJS, and with commercial flights of this new orbital launch vehicle expected to begin by 2016, Virgin Galactic said it aims to offer frequent and dedicated launches of satellite payloads at the world's lowest prices.
Virgin Galactic said four private companies have already put down deposits as future LauncherOne customers, expressing their intent to purchase a total of several dozen launches, which would exceed the level of early commitment of any previous new launch vehicle. Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard Branson also revealed that the company has now accepted deposits for suborbital flights on SpaceShipTwo from 529 future astronauts. Virgin Galactic now says all major components of SpaceShipTwo's rocket system have been qualified for powered flight, which is on track to begin before the end of the year.
"Virgin Galactic’s goal is to revolutionize the way we get to space," Branson said. "I'm immensely proud of what we have already achieved as we draw near to regular suborbital flights on SpaceShipTwo. Now, LauncherOne is bringing the price of satellite launch into the realm of affordability for innovators everywhere, from start-ups and schools to established companies and national space agencies. It will be a critical new tool for the global research community, enabling us all to learn about our home planet more quickly and affordably."
LauncherOne will be a two-stage vehicle capable of carrying up to 500 pounds (225 kilograms) to orbit for prices below $10 million. The rocket will be launched from Virgin Galactic's proven WhiteKnightTwo, the revolutionary aircraft also designed to carry SpaceShipTwo’s commercial passengers aloft to begin a suborbital missions. Virgin Galactic said its customers will enjoy reduced infrastructure costs in addition to the wide range of possible launch locations tailored to individual mission requirements and weather conditions.
LauncherOne customers include Skybox Imaging (Skybox), a Silicon Valley-based firm that recently announced it has raised $91 million for a high resolution imaging constellation; GeoOptics Inc., a U.S.-based company developing a constellation of non-imaging remote sensing satellites; Spaceflight, Inc., the aggregator and integrator of small satellites; and Planetary Resources, Inc., the newly-announced, billionaire-backed asteroid mining venture.