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LauncherOne is an orbital launch vehicle under development by Virgin Galactic in the 2010s. It is an air launch to orbit rocket, designed to launch "smallsat" payloads of 200 kilograms (440 lb) into Sun-synchronous orbit,[1] following air launch from a carrier aircraft at high altitude. Launches are projected to begin in Q4 2016.

Several commercial customers had contracted for launches by 2012, including GeoOptics, Skybox Imaging, Spaceflight Services, and Planetary Resources. Both Surrey Satellite Technology and Sierra Nevada Space Systems are developing satellite buses "optimized to the design of LauncherOne."[2][3]


Virgin Galactic has been working on the LauncherOne concept since at least late 2008,[4] and the technical specifications were first described in some detail in late 2009.[5] The LauncherOne configuration was proposed to be an expendable, two-stage, liquid-fueled rocket air-launched from a White Knight Two carrier aircraft.[6] 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.[7]

As of 2012, Virgin planned to market the 200 kg (440 lb) payload delivery to Sun-synchronous orbit for under US$10,000,000 per mission,[2] while the maximum payload for LEO missions would be somewhat larger at 230 kg (500 lb).[8]

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.[9] The company reported in March 2015 that they were on schedule to begin test flights of LauncherOne with its Newton 3 engine by the end of 2016.[10]

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.[11]

News reports in September 2015 indicated that the higher 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 White Knight Two would no longer be able to lift the rocket to launch altitude.

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,[12] Cosmic Girl,[13] 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.[14][15][16] It was further announced in December that the revised LauncherOne would utilize the larger NewtonFour rocket engine on the booster stage, with the NewtonThree powering the second stage.[14]


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.[8] Ultimately, however, neither NewtonOne nor NewtonTwo would be used on LauncherOne.[clarification needed][citation needed]

NewtonThree is 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.[10][17]

By December 2015, Virgin had settled on a design where the first stage would utilize a larger, and yet-to-be qualified, NewtonThree engine on the booster stage, while the NewtonFour engine would power the second stage.


LauncherOne is a two-stage air-launched vehicle using two Virgin-designed and built Newton RP-1/LOX liquid rocket engines.


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b "Virgin Galactic relaunches its smallsat launch business". NewSpace Journal. July 12, 2012. Retrieved July 11, 2012. 
  3. ^ Amos, Jonathan (July 11, 2012). "Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic to launch small satellites". BBC News. Retrieved July 13, 2012. 
  4. ^ EXCLUSIVE: Virgin Galactic unveils LauncherOne name!, Rob Coppinger, Flightglobal Hyperbola, December 9, 2008
  5. ^ Amos, Jonathan (10 November 2009). "LauncherOne: Virgin Galactic's other project". BBC News. Retrieved 2012-07-13. 
  6. ^ Rob Coppinger (July 11, 2012). "Virgin Galactic Unveils LauncherOne Rocket for Private Satellite Launches". 
  7. ^ Lindsey, Clark (October 18, 2012). "ISPCS 2012: Thurs Afternoon session". NewSpace Watch. 
  8. ^ a b Boyle, Alan (2014-01-23). "Hello, Newton: Virgin Galactic unveils its 'other' rocket engine". NBC News. Retrieved 2015-09-10. 
  9. ^ "Virgin Galactic Opens New Design and Manufacturing Facility for LauncherOne". Space Daily. 18 February 2015. 
  10. ^ a b Foust, Jeff (2015-03-16). "Virgin Galactic's LauncherOne on Schedule for 2016 First Launch". Space News. Retrieved 2015-03-24. 
  11. ^ "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. 
  12. ^ Rundle, Michael (4 December 2015). "How Virgin Galactic will launch satellites from an old 747". Wired UK. Retrieved 8 December 2015. 
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ a b Foust, Jeff (2015-12-04). "Virgin Galactic Acquires Boeing 747 for LauncherOne Missions". Retrieved 2015-12-04. 
  15. ^ "Virgin Galactic Reveals Boeing 747 For LauncherOne."
  16. ^ "Virgin boosts rocket capability". 2015-09-15. 
  17. ^

See also[edit]