Virgin Galactic set to offer satellite launch services

Virgin Galactic is to offer satellite launch services from LauncherOne, a two-stage vehicle capable of carrying up to 225kg to orbit, from 2016.

The rocket will be launched from Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo, which is designed to carry SpaceShipTwo, a vehicle that will take paying customers on suborbital flights. To date, Virgin Galactic says it has accepted deposits for suborbital flights from 529 future astronauts.

Virgin Galactic revealed at the Farnborough Air Show that four private companies have already put down deposits as future LauncherOne customers.

According to a statement, several LauncherOne customers were recognised at the event, namely Skybox Imaging (Skybox), a Silicon Valley-based firm that has raised $91m for a high-resolution imaging constellation; GeoOptics, a US-based company developing a constellation of non-imaging remote sensing satellites; Spaceflight, an aggregator and integrator of small satellites; and Planetary Resources, a newly announced asteroid mining venture.

Tom Ingersoll, chief executive officer of Skybox, said: ‘Skybox’s objective is to provide world-class, affordable access to space imagery and information, and in order to do so, we need world-class, affordable access to space.

‘Virgin Galactic is unique in having the right mix of ingredients to support our vision, as well as that of the growing small satellite community. We plan to make full use of LauncherOne.’

Surrey Satellite Technology and Sierra Nevada Space Systems also announced that they would create optimised satellite designs to match LauncherOne’s performance specifications.

These optimised designs will reportedly allow customers to maximise the capability and minimise the time to market for their satellites.