LauncherOne

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LauncherOne
LauncherOne Diagram.svg
Function Air-Launched Orbital launch vehicle
Manufacturer Virgin Orbit
Country of origin United States
Cost per launch $10 million - $12 million[1][2]
Size
Height ~16 m (52 ft)[3]
Stages 2[3]
Capacity
Payload to 500 km SSO[3] 300 kg (660 lb)
Payload to 230 km SSO 500 kg (1,100 lb)
Associated rockets
Comparable Electron, Vector-H
Launch history
Status In development
Launch sites Mojave Air & Space Port, Spaceport Cornwall
First stage
Diameter 1.6 m (5 ft 3 in).[4][3]
Engines NewtonThree (N3)
Thrust Vacuum: 327 kN (74,000 lbf)
Burn time ~180
Fuel Kerosene/LOX
Second stage
Diameter 1.3 m (4 ft 3 in)[4]
Engines NewtonFour (N4)
Thrust Vacuum: 22 kN (4,900 lbf)
Burn time ~360
Fuel Kerosene/LOX

LauncherOne is an two stage orbital launch vehicle under development by Virgin Orbit since the 2010s. It is an air launch to orbit rocket, designed to launch "smallsat" payloads of 300 kilograms (660 lb) into Sun-synchronous orbit,[3] following air launch from a carrier aircraft at high altitude. Launches were projected to begin in early 2018.[5][needs update]

The original LauncherOne concept, 2007-2015, for a smaller launch vehicle (200 kilograms (440 lb) to low-Earth orbit) was shelved in 2015 and replaced by a larger rocket design capable of putting a 300 kg (660 lb) minisat payload in a 500 km (310 mi) Sun-synchronous orbit, suitable for CubeSats and small payloads, with an expected cost less than US$12 million.

History[edit]

Virgin Galactic began working on the LauncherOne concept in 2007,[6] and the technical specifications were first described in some detail in late 2009.[7] The LauncherOne configuration was proposed to be an expendable, two-stage, liquid-fueled rocket air-launched from a White Knight Two carrier aircraft.[8] This would make it a similar configuration to that used by Orbital Sciences' Pegasus, or a smaller version of the StratoLaunch air-launched rocket system.[citation needed]

In October 2012, Virgin announced that LauncherOne would be designed so that it could place 200 kg (440 lb) in Sun-synchronous orbit.[9] Virgin planned at the time to market the 200 kg (440 lb) payload delivery to Sun-synchronous orbit for under US$10,000,000 per mission,[10] while the maximum payload for LEO missions would be somewhat larger at 230 kg (500 lb).[11]

As of 2012, several commercial customers had signed early contracts for launches signaling demand-side support for new small commercial-oriented launch vehicles. These included GeoOptics, Skybox Imaging, Spaceflight Services, and Planetary Resources. Both Surrey Satellite Technology and Sierra Nevada Space Systems were at the time reported to be developing satellite buses "optimized to the design of LauncherOne."[10][12]

In 2015, Virgin Galactic established a 150,000-square-foot (14,000 m2; 1.4 ha) research, development, and manufacturing center for LauncherOne at the Long Beach Airport.[13]

The company reported in March 2015 that they were on schedule to begin test flights of LauncherOne with its NewtonThree engine by the end of 2016[14] but they did not achieve that objective. On 25 June 2015, the company signed a contract with OneWeb Ltd. for 39 satellite launches for its satellite constellation with an option for an additional 100 launches.[15]

News reports in September 2015 indicated that the heavier payload of 200 kg was to be achieved by longer fuel tanks and use of the recently qualified NewtonThree engine, but this also meant that the Virgin-developed carrier aircraft White Knight Two would no longer be able to lift the rocket to launch altitude, so in December 2015, Virgin announced a change to the carrier plane for LauncherOne to carry the heavier payload. The carrier aircraft will now be a used Boeing 747-400,[16] Cosmic Girl,[17] previously operated by Virgin Galactic's sister company, Virgin Atlantic, and purchased outright by Virgin Group from Boeing upon the expiration of that airframe's lease. The 747 will in turn allow a larger LauncherOne to carry the heavier payloads. The modification work on the company's 747 is expected to be completed in 2016, to be followed by orbital test launches of the rocket in 2017.[18][19][20] It was further announced in December that the revised LauncherOne would utilize the larger NewtonThree rocket engine on the booster stage, with the NewtonFour powering the second stage.[18]

On 2 March 2017 Virgin Galactic announced that its 200-member LauncherOne team was being spun off into a new company called Virgin Orbit[21]. Also, a subsidiary company of Virgin Orbit called Vox Space was created to carry out business which require strict security requirements.[22][23]

The VirginOrbit captive carry flight testing campaign for LauncherOne, including a planned drop test of an unfueled rocket, is licensed to begin in July 2018, and may run for up to six months.[24]

Design[edit]

LauncherOne is a two-stage air-launched vehicle using two Virgin-designed and built Newton RP-1/LOX liquid rocket engines. The rocket has a diameter of 1.6 m (5 ft 3 in) for the first stage and 1.3 m (4 ft 3 in) for the second stage and payload fairing.[4] The first stage uses one NewtonThree engine, while the upper stage uses one NewtonFour engine.[4]

Engines[edit]

Originally, in 2012, the second stage was to be powered by NewtonOne, a 16 kilonewtons (3,500 lbf) thrust engine. It was originally intended that the first stage will be powered by a scaled-up design of the same basic technology as NewtonOne, called NewtonTwo, with 211 kilonewtons (47,500 lbf) of thrust. Both engines had been designed by early 2014, and first articles had been built. NewtonOne was tested up to a full-duration burn of five minutes. NewtonTwo made several short-duration firings by early 2014.[11] Ultimately, however, neither NewtonOne nor NewtonTwo would be used on LauncherOne.[clarification needed][citation needed]

As of 2015, NewtonThree was to be a 260–335-kilonewton (58,000–75,000 lbf)-thrust engine, and began hot-fire testing by March 2015. June 2015 reports suggested that a NewtonThree would power the first stage of LauncherOne.[14][25]

By December 2015, Virgin had settled on a design where the first stage would utilize the larger NewtonThree engine on the booster stage, while the NewtonFour engine would power the second stage, and this was confirmed in June 2018 as Virgin Orbit readied for the start of the flight test campaign in the second half of 2018. NewtonThree will generate 330 kilonewtons (74,000 lbf) of thrust while NewtonFour will deliver 22 kN (4,900 lbf) to the second stage.[24]

Intended usage[edit]

LauncherOne designed to launch a 300 kg (660 lb) payload to a 500 km (310 mi) Sun-synchronous orbit, suitable for CubeSats and small payloads. The cost is less than US$12 million. Customers may choose to encapsulate their spacecraft in payload fairings provided by the company, which can be easily attached to the rocket shortly before launch, in several different configurations, such as fitting CubeSats dispensers or multiple satellites in a single fairing.

Virgin Orbit will integrate payloads at their headquarters in Long Beach, California.[3]

Launch sites[edit]

Mojave Spaceport

As of 2018 LauncherOne is planned to launch primarily from the Mojave Air and Space Port on board the Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 carrier,[3] the rocket is attached to a pylon on the aircraft's left wing. It will then fly over California and detach the rocket after entering the Pacific Ocean, the specific drop site is based on the desired orbital inclination of the customer. [3] This allows the rocket to avoid typical launch delay issues that affect traditional launches, such as weather and upper-level winds. Virgin Orbit plans to seek launch support from the Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, Kona International Airport (KOA) in Hawaii, and former Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Puerto Rico.[3] Virgin Orbit may also use additional launch facilities based upon the specific needs of each customer.

Planned launches[edit]

As of early 2018, Virgin Orbit was planning the first flight test from Mojave Air and Space Port in early 2018, with an August 2018 planned launch of the first LauncherOne customer payload, an ELaNa nanosatellite for NASA.[26] In the event, by June 2018, no early 2018 tests had been flown, and the captive carry phase of the flight test program was not due to get underway until July 2018.[24]

Date / time (UTC) Rocket,
Configuration
Launch site Payload Orbit Customer
Early 2018[inconsistent] LauncherOne Cosmic Girl
Mojave
Virgin Galactic
Flight test; Maiden orbital flight.
August 2018 [26] LauncherOne Cosmic Girl
Mojave
ALBus
CACTUS-1
CAPE-3
ExoCube-2
INCA
MicroMAS-2b
MiTEE-1
PICS 1, 2
PolarCube
Q-PACE (Cu-PACE)
RadFxSat-2 (Fox-1E)
TechEdSat-7 (TES-7)
Low Earth NASA
Launch of CubeSats for NASA's ELaNa program. Technology demonstration
2018 LauncherOne Cosmic Girl
Mojave
Low Earth Sky and Space Global
2019 LauncherOne Cosmic Girl
Mojave
STP (TBD) Low Earth U.S. Air Force
Technology demonstration
2019 LauncherOne Cosmic Girl
Mojave
GomSpace satellites (TBD) Low Earth GomSpace
AIS ship tracking
2019 LauncherOne Cosmic Girl
Mojave
SpaceBelt-1 Low Earth Cloud Constellation
Communications

References[edit]

  1. ^ https://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2017/08/virgin-orbit-sitael-launch-contract/%7Caccessdate=27 March 2018
  2. ^ http://spacenews.com/virgin-orbit-plans-2018-first-launch/%7Caccessdate=27 March 2018
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Launcherone Service Guide" (PDF). Retrieved 27 March 2018. 
  4. ^ a b c d Virgin Orbit LauncherOne Data Sheet. Space Launch Report.
  5. ^ Henry, Caleb (12 September 2017). "Virgin Orbit still expects to fly twice a month in 2020 despite delayed test campaign". Retrieved 13 September 2017. 
  6. ^ Virgin Galactic [@virgingalactic] (2 March 2017). "Our #LauncherOne program has come a long way since we began it in earnest in 2012 (even further since we first dreamt up the idea in 2007)!" (Tweet) – via Twitter. 
  7. ^ Amos, Jonathan (10 November 2009). "LauncherOne: Virgin Galactic's other project". BBC News. Retrieved 2012-07-13. 
  8. ^ Rob Coppinger (July 11, 2012). "Virgin Galactic Unveils LauncherOne Rocket for Private Satellite Launches". Space.com. 
  9. ^ Lindsey, Clark (October 18, 2012). "ISPCS 2012: Thurs Afternoon session". NewSpace Watch. 
  10. ^ a b "Virgin Galactic relaunches its smallsat launch business". NewSpace Journal. July 12, 2012. Retrieved July 11, 2012. 
  11. ^ a b Boyle, Alan (2014-01-23). "Hello, Newton: Virgin Galactic unveils its 'other' rocket engine". NBC News. Retrieved 2015-09-10. 
  12. ^ Amos, Jonathan (July 11, 2012). "Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic to launch small satellites". BBC News. Retrieved July 13, 2012. 
  13. ^ "Virgin Galactic Opens New Design and Manufacturing Facility for LauncherOne". Space Daily. 18 February 2015. 
  14. ^ a b Foust, Jeff (2015-03-16). "Virgin Galactic's LauncherOne on Schedule for 2016 First Launch". Space News. Retrieved 2015-03-24. 
  15. ^ "Virgin Galactic Signs Contract with OneWeb to Perform 39 Satellite Launches" (Press release). Long Beach, California: Virgin Galactic. 25 June 2015. Retrieved 2015-06-25. 
  16. ^ Rundle, Michael (4 December 2015). "How Virgin Galactic will launch satellites from an old 747". Wired UK. Retrieved 8 December 2015. 
  17. ^ Woollaston, Victoria (4 December 2015). "Virgin Galactic to fling rockets into space from a JUMBO JET: Boeing 747 'Cosmic Girl' will be the mothership for LauncherOne". Daily Mail. London. 
  18. ^ a b Foust, Jeff (2015-12-04). "Virgin Galactic Acquires Boeing 747 for LauncherOne Missions". Retrieved 2015-12-04. 
  19. ^ "Virgin Galactic Reveals Boeing 747 For LauncherOne."
  20. ^ "Virgin boosts rocket capability". 2015-09-15. 
  21. ^ Davenport, Christian (2 March 2017). "Richard Branson starting a new venture dedicated to launching small satellites into space". The Washington Post. Retrieved 8 March 2017. 
  22. ^ "Richard Branson Launches New Company to Compete with Elon Musk". November 2, 2017. Retrieved 10 March 2018. 
  23. ^ "Vox Space". Vox Space. Retrieved 10 March 2018. 
  24. ^ a b c Baylor, Michael (19 June 2018). "Virgin Orbit readies LauncherOne rocket for maiden flight". NASASpaceFlight.com. Retrieved 2018-06-26. 
  25. ^ http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/analysis-virgin-galactic-thrusting-ahead-with-satellite-launch-414159/
  26. ^ a b VCLS / ELaNa XX. Launch Schedule. Accessed: 27 January 2018.

External links[edit]

See also[edit]