|Virgin Orbit LauncherOne
Virgin Galactic, part of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin
Group, began development of its LauncherOne system in mid-2012, after preliminary study of
the idea beginning in 2007. The company's initial goal was to be able to boost 120 kg to
sun sychronous low earth orbit for less than $10 million. The company initially
contemplated use of the White Knight Two aircraft that was built for the SpaceShipTwo
program to drop-launch the LauncherOne rocket.
Early development focused on rocket engines for the two stages and on composite propellant
tanks. By mid-2015, the development team moved into a 150,000 square foot manufacturing
facility in Long Beach, California. The group had successfully test fired its 73,500 lbf
thrust "NewtonThree" first stage engine and had tested the gas generator for the
5,000 lbf "NewtonFour" second stage engine. Both engines were pump-fed LOX/RP-1
types. Earlier pressure-fed "NewtonOne" and "NewtonTwo" engines,
capable of 47,500 lbf and 3,500 lbf thrust respectively, had been prevously tested by the
company, but abandoned in favor of the pump-fed designs. These engines had been developed
under DARPA's ALASA (Airborne Launch Assist Space Access) program.
Engine testing took place at Mojave, using Virgin Galactic's "Necker" test
stands. During a typical flight, the first stage engine would fire for about three
minutes. The second stage engine would perform multiple burns for a total of nearly six
The decision to go with pump-fed engines, combined with a decision to bypass White Knite
in favor of a larger aircraft, increased payload to 200 kg by mid-2015.
LauncherOne Cutaway Illustration
On 25 June 2015, Virgin Galactic won a contract to orbit
39 satellites for OneWeb Limited. On October 14, 2015, Virgin Galactic won a NASA Venture
Class Launch Services program contract for a single launch that would carry about one
dozen microsatellites to orbit. The company also won a contract from Sky and Space Global.
LauncherOne's filament-wound composite cryogenic oxidizer tanks were cutting-edge.
Composite tanks of this type had never flown on orbital missions. The LOX tanks would be
coated with spray-on foam insulation to minimize LOX boiloff during the ferry phase to the
drop zone. First stage diameter was 72 inches. The second stage was 50 inches in diameter.
The 50 inch diameter payload fairing offered about 12 feet of internal length.
On December 3, 2015, the company announced that a 747-400 aircraft named "Cosmic
Girl" would be used to drop-launch the LauncherOne rocket from 35,000 foot altitudes.
The 747 had previously flown for Virgin Atlantic. Modifications of
the 747 began to allow it to carry LauncherOne on a new pylon under its port wing, inboard
of the engines, and to provide updated communications systems to allow it to serve as a
"flying launch site".
In March, 2017, Virgin Galactic announced that it was forming a new company, Virgin Orbit,
to handle the LauncherOne program. The company would be led by President Dan Hart,
previously Vice President of Boeing Government Satellite Systems.
By early 2017, LauncherOne performance was listed at 300 kg to a 500 km sun synchronous
orbit or 500 kg to a 200 km x 28.5 deg low earth orbit. Virgin Orbit was planning for
initial operations to be based in Mojave, California. There, a Level 8 clean room payload
integration facility was located at the "Final Assembly, Integration and Test
Hangar" (FAITH) that also served Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo program. Plans called
for Cosmic Girl to ferry LauncherOne and payload to launch sites on the east or west
 200 km x 28.5 deg
 500 km x 98.6 deg
||0.500 t 
0.300 t 
|747-400 "Cosmic Girl" " Stg 1 (NewtonThree)
+ Stg 2 (NewtonFour) + PLF
* LEO: Low Earth
|Propellant Mass (tonnes)
|Empty Mass (tonnes)
|Total Mass (tonnes)
||1 x NewtonThree
||1 x NewtonFour
|ISP (SL sec)
|ISP (Vac sec)
|Burn Time (sec)
LauncherOne Launch Log
LAUNCHERONE ORBITAL SPACE LAUNCH LOG
DATE VEHICLE ID PAYLOAD MASS(t) SITE* ORBIT*
NN/NN/NN LauncherOne 01 NNNN NNN NN LEO
VA = Vandenberg AFB, California
WI = Wallops Island, Virginia
CC = Cape Canaveral, Florida
EEO/M = Molynia (12-hr) Elliptical Earth Orbit
FTO = Failed to Orbit
FSO = Failed Suborbital
GTO = Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit
GTO+ = Supersynchronous or High Perigee Transfer Orbit
GTO- = Subsynchronous Transfer Orbit
GTOi = Inclined GTO
GEO = Geosynchronous Orbit
HCO = Heliocentric (solar) Orbit
HTO = High Earth Transfer Orbit
LEO = Low Earth Orbit
LEO/S = Sun Synchronous Low Earth Orbit
LEO/P = Polar Low Earth Orbit
MEO = Medium Earth Orbit
MTO = Medium Earth Transfer Orbit
SUB = Suborbital
Virgin Orbit and Virgin Galactic Web Sites, LauncherOne
Updates and Launch Vehicle Description, 2015-17.
LauncherOne Service Guide Version 0.2, Virgin Galactic, March 25, 2016.
Last Update: April 04, 2017