Virgin’s LauncherOne Small Booster Gets Its Own Factory

LauncherOne Factory Launch / Image Credit : Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic announced on Thursday that its is opening a dedicate factory in Long Beach, California for producing the LauncherOne small booster.

Here is an excerpt from the press release, absent the obligatory statements from local officials::

LONG BEACH, Calif. – February 12, 2015 – Virgin Galactic, the privately-funded space company owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments PJS, is pleased to announce it has leased a new 150,000 square foot facility that will house design and manufacturing of the company’s small satellite launch vehicle, LauncherOne.

LauncherOne is a new two-stage orbital launch vehicle being designed by Virgin Galactic specifically to launch commercial or governmental satellites that weigh 500 pounds (225 kilograms) or less. Much like SpaceShipTwo, the company’s reusable vehicle for space tourism, LauncherOne is designed to be launched from the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, giving customers the ability to avoid crowded and expensive launch ranges while also picking the launch location best suited for their mission. Located at the Long Beach Airport, this new facility will allow easy transportation of rockets and of customers’ satellites using WhiteKnightTwo.

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said, “The technical progress our team has made designing and testing LauncherOne has enabled a move into a dedicated facility to produce the rocket at quantity. With New Mexico’s magnificent Spaceport America for our commercial spaceflight operations, our Mojave facilities for WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo production, and now our new facility in Long Beach for LauncherOne, we are building capability to serve our expanding customer community.”

Virgin Galactic will be hosting a job fair and open house at the new facility on Saturday March 7. Prospective applicants looking for more information should visit virgingalactic.com in the coming days for complete job listings and for more information on the open house.

With a launch price aimed to be the lowest in the nation or perhaps the world, LauncherOne has already attracted the interest of numerous small satellite manufacturers and operators. Among them is the recently announced OneWeb project designed to deliver broadband services to areas of the world not currently served by terrestrial networks. This and other ambitious projects are expected keep the Long Beach facility busy for many years to come.

End excerpt

Tied to Virgin’s participation in the global satellite constellation OneWeb, LauncherOne will certainly not lack for business opportunities. It will also not lack for competition.  There are a growing list of small launch vehicle development efforts including Swiss Space Systems, Firefly Space Systems, RocketLab and Generation Orbit. With the market for very small satellites virtually exploding, there may be room enough for all of these, and more.

Though each offers a somewhat different capacity and price point, as well as radically different concept of operations, at the same time none appears to stand out from the numbers cited by Virgin Galactic.  With the exception of Swiss Space Systems, each booster under development features at least two expendable stages. (S3’s plan calls for an air launched suborbital spaceplane to release a single stage rocket carrying its payload to orbit.)

With the advent of re-usability being brought closer by the day in the large booster category, one wonders which if any of the companies racing to introduce their new systems in the small launcher class is quietly planning to pursue the same. As the small satellite market shows no signs of slowing, the incentives are growing, and the payoff could be enormous.

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