Suborbital space tourism company Virgin Galactic announced on Wednesday that work had started on the development of a small satellite launch rocket, designated LauncherOne, that will be dropped from the company’s WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) carrier aircraft and provide commercial small satellite launch services. The announcement was made at the 2012 Farnborough Air Show in the UK.
WK2 was originally developed to carry the SpaceShipTwo (SS2) suborbital passenger spacecraft. WK2 will carry SS2 to altitudes around 16 000 m and release the spacecraft, which will then ignite its rocket motor and soar into space for a suborbital flight, after which it will re-enter the atmosphere and glide back to base.
The same approach will be used with LauncherOne, except that, of course, the end result will be the orbital flight of a small satellite. The new rocket will be able to launch satellites with a mass of up to 225 kg, and is forecast to be able to do so at prices of below $10-million.
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