Virgin Orbit Acquires First Contract for New LauncherOne System

Photo Courtesy: Virgin Galactic
An artist’s interpretation of the LauncherOne’s stage separation before the NewtonFour carries the satellite into orbit.

William Rhodes/Correspondent

Virgin Orbit recently declared that they were selected by Cloud Constellation Corporation to deliver the SpaceBelt constellation satellites.

The agreement was signed by the two Chief Executive Officers of the two companies during the World Satellite Business Week in Paris. The deal states that Virgin Orbit will put a dozen satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) that will eventually become the SpaceBelt system, which is a spaced-based cloud storage network that plans to eliminate data being vulnerable to attack.

Virgin will place the satellites into LEO via their new LauncherOne system as early as 2019. LauncherOne, a two-stage rocket that launches from a Boeing 747-400 carrier, is in the final testing stages. The 747, aptly named Cosmic Girl, is designed to carry the rocket to approximately 35,000 feet before releasing the rocket. Once the rocket is released, the 1st stage 73,500 lbf engine ignites using LOX/RP-1 fuel. This engine, the NewtonThree, will fire for 3 minutes before main engine cutoff (MECO) and will then separate for the 2nd stage engine, the NewtonFour, to fire. The NewtonFour produces 5,000 lbf and is also a LOX/RP-1 fueled engine that will perform multiple burns to place the upper stage and payload into LEO.

Photo Courtesy: Virgin Galactic

The system can carry a max payload of 1100 lbm and can launch within nine months after signing the contract. LauncherOne hopes to minimize the cost and increase the reliability of placing
small satellites into orbit.

The design of the LauncherOne system is not new to the aerospace industry; however, it was seen in the early days of rocket flight with the X-15 being launched mid-flight by a B-52. It is also not the only private company developing a launch system like this.

Stratolaunch also is developing a similar system but has developed the largest aircraft in history with a wingspan of 385 feet (longer than the International Space Station) and weighing a whopping 1.2 million pounds. Stratolaunch is designed to carry very large rockets including Falcon 9’s.

As more private space companies pop up, the future of space travel and space-related industries seems very bright.