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Space Science

Virgin Galactic Announces New Satellite Launch Vehicle 102

An anonymous reader writes "Virgin Galactic has announced a new craft called LauncherOne, which it will use to put satellites into orbit. 'It appears to leverage some of the hardware already developed for SpaceShipTwo, Virgin's suborbital tourist vehicle. Like SpaceShipTwo, the new rocket rides up underneath Virgin's big carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo, to about 50,000 feet. After release, the rocket drops for approximately four seconds before the first stage ignites. After the first stage burns out, a second stage takes the satellite to orbit.' Launching from a moving airplane eliminates many cost and scheduling concerns inherent to ground-based launches, and it's much easier to reach a broad range of trajectories for putting objects into orbit. According to the press release, LauncherOne will get objects up to 225kg into orbit for less than $10 million."
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Virgin Galactic Announces New Satellite Launch Vehicle

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  • Why is this novel? (Score:3, Informative)

    by jeffmeden ( 135043 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @01:20PM (#40640509) Homepage Journal

    I am not an expert but some quick calculations reveal that if they can launch 225kg payload for $10M that puts it at pretty close to the same cost other vehicles have been providing for years, like an Athena 2 or Taurus launch vehicle (which can also support much heavier payloads). Is this unique in that it is specifically for smaller payloads? Or, is the ability to do launches "wherever, whenever"? This has interesting implications but doesnt seem like it would shake up the market too much given that most satellites are planned out pretty far in advance of going to orbit.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 13, 2012 @01:25PM (#40640557)

    Branson is nuts if he thinks he can prevail against Orbital in this segment of the launch market.

    Did you read TFA? It specifically talks about Orbital's "struggling" Pegasus XL. Specifically, that it's much more expensive on a per-pound basis.

    The article claims that Branson already has customers lined up. Too soon to say what will happen, of course, but I certainly wouldn't call the man "nuts."

  • by Cyberax ( 705495 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @01:26PM (#40640569)
    $10M for 225 kg is more than $40000 per kg. That's even more than Shuttle's effective price-to-orbit for its payload. Once they get their price at least 10 times down then they can start thinking about competing with real rockets.
  • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @01:41PM (#40640737) Homepage

    Scaled Composites (Branson) built some of the structural components for the Pegasus. It's not an entirely new field for them.

  • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Friday July 13, 2012 @01:55PM (#40640891) Journal

    A couple of things: Air launches are dangerous - you've got a whole bunch of explosives strapped to the body of a very large aircraft which is carrying humans (pilots, support personnel). This may not sound like a big deal, but it is. The FAA makes certification of a new aircraft a monumental task. Orbital found out that just modifying their jet to carry Pegasus required a very lengthy (and expensive) re-certification process. The initial payload is limited to the capacity of the aircraft minus the booster. That's actually a pretty big deal.

    Disclaimer: I worked with the NASA group that designed the original PegSat (first Pegasus payload) and I worked for Orbital, but not their flight group - most of what I know is from the trade rags of the time.

Life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. - Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan