The competition heats up: The CEO of Virgin Galactic, George Whitesides, revealed at a satellite conference that they are on schedule for LauncherOne to make its first flight before the end of 2016.
The company recently started hot-fire tests of an engine called Newton 3 developed by Virgin Galactic for the first stage of LauncherOne, Whitesides said. That engine, capable of generating 265,000 to 335,000 newtons of thrust, uses liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants. “We’re now to the point where we’re very confident that we can build a very affordable rocket,” Whitesides said. After his speech, he said the company was on schedule to begin flights by the end of 2016, with even initial test flights likely carrying some satellites.
That it is Whitesides and not Richard Branson saying this makes me more confident that it is true, though I remain very skeptical of any promise made by anyone these days at Virgin Galactic. However, the impression from this article confirms an earlier impression I have had, that the company is beginning to shift its resources away from suborbital tourism with SpaceShipTwo and towards orbital launch services with LauncherOne. Branson had announced LauncherOne as a concept in 2012, but only recently have we begin to hear of any actual work on it.