Virgin Galactic Satellite LauncherOne Manager Leaves Amid Uncertainty

SpaceShipTwo takes flight for the first time under its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship. (Photo Credit: Mark Greenberg)

Virgin Galactic slows satellite launcher plans
BBC News

Virgin Galactic’s satellite launching rocket LauncherOne that once attracted $110m in investment is now in doubt. LauncherOne’s manager has departed and the space tourism company’s chief executive is talking only about future possibilities for the rocket…

In July 2009, Abu Dhabi-based Aabar Investment offered Virgin Galactic $110m for LauncherOne development, if further studies proved the business case.

Later that year, Sir Richard’s Galactic team took on Adam Baker to be its general manager for small satellite launch and to conduct those studies…

However, Dr Baker left Virgin Galactic last month and there is no clear explanation from the company as to why the project is not set to follow Mr Whitehorn’s timetable.

“It’s potentially an exciting area. Galactic as a whole may at some point in the future continue to work beyond looking at future projects,” Virgin Galactic’s CEO George Whitesides told the BBC. “It’s an area we continue to think about.”

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Editor’s Note: This is very interesting in that Virgin Galactic saw this as being a key revenue stream, the others being space tourists, microgravity experiments and environmental monitoring.

It’s potentially very good news for XCOR, which has plans to launch small satellites from its Lynx vehicle. The military is very interested in being able to launch satellites on demand to respond quickly to developing situations. Lynx could launch from just about anywhere.

The other player in this market is Orbital Sciences Corporation, which launches its Pegasus rocket from an L-1011 aircraft. In Janauary, company President David W. Thompson told Space News that the company was debating whether to continue flying the Pegasus:

Orbital Sciences Corp. likely will decide in the next year or so whether to continue offering its air-launched Pegasus XL small rocket, demand for which has faded in recent years, according to David W. Thompson, the company’s chairman and chief executive.

With NASA conducting fewer small satellite missions and the U.S. Defense Department relying primarily on Minotaur rockets to loft its small payloads, launches of what once was Orbital’s signature product are now few and far between. The Minotaur family of rockets are based in part on excess missile hardware and assembled by Orbital under contract to the U.S. Air Force.

In a Jan. 12 interview, Thompson said Orbital has been able to sustain the Pegasus program despite the low launch rate due in part due to the vehicle’s commonality with other rockets the company builds, primarily the Orbital Boost Vehicle, a key component of the U.S. territorial missile shield known as the Ground -based Midcourse Defense system. The Orbital Boost Vehicle, used to hurl kill vehicles at incoming missile warheads, is effectively a ground-launched version of Pegasus minus the wings, he said.

But production of the Orbital Boost Vehicle is winding down following decisions by the U.S. government to curtail deployment of missile interceptors in the United States and to use a completely different system to defend Europe.