Virgin Galactic Introduces LauncherOneAnd yet another company is getting in on the space launching game. Virgin Galactic has announced a new launcher based on the SpaceShipTwo design, their manned suborbital craft.
Virgin Galactic's fleet of spacefaring vessels take a slightly different approach to launching than most: a small spaceplane is mounted below a carrier aircraft, which shuttles the craft up into the air. By flying high, the launch vehicle doesn't have to worry about the incredible atmospheric drag there is near ground level, which means that the craft can go horizontal sooner and needn't be as large.
But there is another advantage, as well: you can launch from many different spots, and you don't have to worry about clearing the launch pad. Virgin Galactic will be able to manage a scale other companies have trouble matching simply for this reason.
Virgin Galactic's new satellite launcher will follow the same basic profile as the SpaceshipTwo, except it is designed to go orbital. The vehicle doesn't need the massive amount of fuel normal launches do simply because it is being launched higher.
In fact, Virgin Galactic is expecting that their new launcher can launch a satellite for a mere $10 million, a third what any other company can do.
The design strikes me as being quite feasible, but I do wonder about how large the cargo can be, and what the price per kilogram is. While being able to launch smaller satellites cheaply is nice, the smaller the launcher, the more expensive it usually is per kilogram. I wouldn't be surprised if this new launcher proves to be more expensive per kilogram than, say, the Falcon 9.
That said, a low cost launcher that can lift a satellite for a mere $10 million will be a godsend for the space industry. And it's a good thing to have yet another company striving for cheap access to space.