While every other gadget in our lives has gotten smaller, lighter, and cheaper, satellite technology spent decades after the launch of Sputnik and Explorer I getting bigger, heavier, and more expensive. But recently, the rise of cubesats and microsatellites has meant that at last, commercial satellite start-ups, universities, schools, and even crowdfunding campaigns can put their own satellites into space. However, small satellites need small satellite launch vehicles—after all, small satellites cannot truly change the world without cost-effective, frequent rides to space!
Most of the small and microsatellites that have already reached space have done so by “hitchhiking” — catching a ride on someone else’s big, expensive rocket. Hitchhiking to space has real drawbacks: just like hitchhiking here on Earth, when you leave and where you get dropped off aren’t your decisions to make, there are very strict rules about what you can and can’t do during the ride. Those restrictions may be fine if your only goal is to prove that your satellite works in space, but if you are trying to build a business or accomplish a mission, you need your own ride, to the right destination and at the right price.
The makers, builders, and satellite entrepreneurs have done their part. It’s time for the rockets to do theirs. It’s time for LauncherOne.
At Virgin Galactic, we are leveraging our work building our human spaceflight program and our team’s extensive background in low-cost launch systems to create LauncherOne, an orbital launch vehicle dedicated to the small satellite market. Already, our world-class team of 150 experienced professionals are hard at work in our 150,000 square foot manufacturing and design facility, helping make this system a reality. We’ve built and tested real hardware, acquired a 747-400 to serve as our dedicated carrier aircraft, and signed up both commercial and government customers to real launch contracts. With real hardware built and real results achieved, we are well on our way towards a vehicle that will meet our customers’ needs for launch reliability, availability and flexibility, at a commercial price they can afford.
LauncherOne customers will use their satellites to conduct a staggering array of missions. Some will further the exploration of space, others will directly focus on improving life here on Earth. Already, satellite manufacturers have presented plans to use LauncherOne to launch missions to provide broadband internet to billions of people who are currently without internet access, to take pictures of the Earth for humanitarian causes, to collect more accurate weather measurements, to hunt for asteroids that could represent threats and opportunities to our home planet, and to launch many other types of satellites. We’re convinced that the types of missions are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Governments, companies, and even individuals all around the world are now building incredibly innovative small satellites. Once a team of satellite innovators has invested their time and money perfecting their satellite technology, they don’t want to sit around waiting for a launch date that could be years in the future. The world’s leading satellite inventors deserve a launch vehicle that works the way their satellites work. That’s why LauncherOne is built to support quick, responsive, and affordable cubesat and microsatellite missions.
LauncherOne has been designed from the start to be affordable, reliable, flexible, and responsive. We accomplish those ambitious goals through the way we design the system, the way we build it, and way we operate it. One critically important aspect of our method is the way we launch our system.
Rather than launching from a traditional launch pad at a spaceport, LauncherOne is launched from our dedicated 747-400 carrier aircraft, called Cosmic Girl.
Cosmic Girl will carry LauncherOne to at an altitude of approximately 35,000 feet before releasing the launch vehicle to begin its rocket-powered flight to orbit. Starting each mission with an airplane rather than a traditional launch pad offers performance benefits in terms of payload capacity, but more importantly, air-launch offers an unparalleled level of flexibility. LauncherOne will operate from a variety of locations independently of traditional launch ranges—which are often congested with traffic—and will have the ability operate through or around a variety of weather conditions and other impediments that delay traditional launches.
Once released from the carrier aircraft, the LauncherOne rocket fires up its single main stage engine, a 73,500 lbf, LOX/RP-1 rocket engine called the “NewtonThree.” Typically, this engine will fire for approximately three minutes. After stage separation, the single upper stage engine, a 5,000 lbf LOX/RP-1 rocket engine called the “NewtonFour” will carry the satellite(s) into orbit. Typically, the second stage will execute multiple burns totaling nearly six minutes. Both the NewtonThree and the NewtonFour are highly reliable liquid rocket engines designed, tested, and built by Virgin Galactic.
At the end of this sequence, LauncherOne will deploy our customers’ satellite (or satellites) into their desired orbit. Both stages of LauncherOne will be safely deorbited, while the carrier aircraft will return to a predetermined airport, where it can be quickly prepared for its next flight.
Quelle: Virgin Galactic