Virgin Galactic announces changes to LauncherOne

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Though this BBC news article is really nothing more than a propaganda piece for Virgin Galactic, the announcement it describes does confirm what has been suspected by space experts for months, that the company is reconfiguring LauncherOne to be more powerful and to launch on a bigger airplane, not WhiteKnightTwo.

In reading the quotes in this article from the various Virgin Galactic officials, I come away feeling even less confident of this company’s ability to get this rocket off the ground. To me, they sound like they are improvising wildly as they go, have no clear long term plan, and thus will have significant trouble settling on a final design early enough so that they will be able to build it intelligently.

I hope I am wrong. The report does suggest however that their investment in WhiteKnightTwo is increasingly appearing to be a waste. They won’t use it for LauncherOne, and their effort to launch SpaceShipTwo with it appears to be slowly vanishing.



  • Edward


    I think that it is good that Virgin Galactic is responding to the customers’s needs.

    One of your earlier posts contains a story that tells of Boeing’s success with the 707 hinging upon whether they would change their design in order to accommodate their customers. “Was it to be Henry Ford’s way, or the highway?” To give away the ending of the story: Boeing made the changes and the 707’s success is now legend. “Boeing responded to nearly every customer request and niche. The accountants might have not liked it, but the airlines sure did.”

    “In the 10 years from 1956 to 1966, Boeing had remade itself, and the commercial airplane world, and Planet Earth.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a rocket company did the same for space during the next ten years?

    “And, it all came down to Ed Wells, and Bill Allen, …… and 4.5 inches.”

  • I agree that it is good for a company to respond to its customers and adapt. My impression of Virgin Galactic however is not that they are adapting but that they are lost, weaving left and right willy-nilly without clear direction. Right now, I simply do not have faith in their management or its ability to guide LauncherOne to flight.

    In the case of Boeing, they had solid leadership under Bill Allen. The company knew where it was going, and what it was building, from the start. They merely had to be willing refine it for their customers.

  • I think this was driven a lot by OneWeb.

    The original LauncherOne could put a single OneWeb satellite into orbit. Let’s say “under $10 million” ends up being $8 million. So, 39 launches would cost $312 million for a small portion of the constellation. For 100 satellites OneWeb has optioned, that would be another $800 million. The Soyuz will be able to loft 32-36 satellites at a time. I don’t know what those launches will cost, but it will be a lot less than what LauncherOne will cost for a similar number of satellites.

    LauncherOne’s new payload capacity would allow for up to three OneWeb satellites at once. It also matches that of Firefly’s launch vehicle. And that company’s effort is led by — wait for it — former Virgin Galactic VP of Propulsion Tom Markusic and includes members of his old team from Mojave.

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