From Virgin Galactic come two announcements today


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The competition heats up: From Virgin Galactic come two announcements today:

The second is really the big news, especially as it appears they already have some customers.

LauncherOne will be a two-stage vehicle capable of carrying up to 500 pounds (225 kilograms) to orbit for prices below $10 million. The rocket will be launched from Virgin Galactic’s proven WhiteKnightTwo, the uniquely capable aircraft also designed to carry SpaceShipTwo aloft to begin her suborbital missions. Thanks to the extreme flexibility of air launch, Virgin Galactic’s customers will enjoy reduced infrastructure costs in addition to the wide range of possible launch locations tailored to individual mission requirements and weather conditions. Branson and other senior executives announced that work has already begun on the vehicle.

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4 comments

  • Joe

    “LauncherOne will be a two-stage vehicle capable of carrying up to 500 pounds (225 kilograms) to orbit for prices below $10 million.”

    If it is not well below “$10 million” ($20,000 per pound) it is hard to see where the market is. That cost makes ULA’s prices look like bargains.

  • Yeah, I noticed this as well. However, even if the cost isn’t much less, there might be an advantage in that a small satellite built by a university will not have to piggyback on a bigger rocket, and could schedule its own launch at its own convenience.

  • Joe

    I do not know what ULA would charge for such “piggy back” payloads (seriously do you have any idea of a source of such information), but I would bet it would be less than $10M. So the cost for Virgin Galactic would likely be more. That would leave as potential customers, payloads in the 500 lbs. (or less) category that would be willing (and able) to pay a premium (as in higher) price for the exclusive launch service.

    I assume that Virgin Galactic would have researched the possible market before making such an announcement, but I cannot figure out what it would be.

  • I’ve had conversations with a number of university professors who run programs teaching students how to build satellites. Their biggest problem is getting those satellites into orbit for the students. Often the problem is cost, but more often the problem is that there is no rocket aimed at launching smallsats. They must go piggyback, and when they do, they are at the mercy of others, which often leads to endless delays, or even the inability to get into space at all.

    I suspect that many of these university professors would be glad to pay a higher fee for the ability to guarantee a launch time. Not only would they get their own launch vehicle, but they wouldn’t have to worry as much about range issues using WhiteKnightTwo.

    The obvious next question is whether there is a big enough market here for Virgin Galactic. I believe there is. One of the things that has held back the nanosat market has been the lack of an appropriate launch vehicle. Virgin is now offering to provide that.

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