Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Galactic, displays a small model of LauncherOne, a revolutionary satellite-launching spacecraft.
Virgin Galactic announced today that it would begin work on a new satellite launch craft that can travel round the world in 90 hours.
Called LauncherOne, the space craft is a pioneering effort in the emerging commercial space flight industry. It promises to provide powerful and affordable new means for the scientific study of Earth.
LauncherOne will place satellites into orbit at 50,000 feet above sea level, and it will do so at a fraction of the cost: typically it costs $20-30 million to put a satellite into orbit. Virgin Galactic’s launcher does it for less than $10 million.
According to this video by Virgin Galactic, the satellite-launching crafts will permit more scientists than ever to study the earth.
“Satellites can be much smaller, much smarter, and more powerful than ever,” Branson said in the video. The problem, he said, was that the process for launching satellites has been far too difficult and costly. “Until now.”
“The pieces are all place to transform the business of satellite launch,” Branson said in the video. “Paired with purpose-built small satellites, Launcher one will enable scientists to tackle global environmental challenges with unprecedented speed and precision.”
LauncherOne is the newest project of Virgin Galactic, which also has plans to send everyday citizens into space by next year. This in keeping with Virgin Galactic’s mission to “open space up to everyone.”
According to Branson’s blog post, 529 “future astronauts” have signed up to take the commercial flights into space. That means the roster already includes more people than have been in space since Yuri Gagarin made the first trip in April 12, 1961. That is, as of today, 528 people have been to space.
LauncherOne will go around the world at 18,000 miles per hour, meaning it will complete the entire orbit in 90 minutes, according to Branson.
“At Virgin Galactic we are taking the initiative and making it happen,” he writes. “Because space is Virgin territory.”