Virgin Galactic Reaches Milestone in LauncherOne Engine Testing

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MOJAVE, Calif. (VG PR) – Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline, announced today that it has reached a significant milestone in the testing of a new family of liquid rocket engines for LauncherOne, the company’s small satellite launch vehicle.

As part of a rapid development program, Virgin Galactic has now hot-fired both a 3,500 lbf thrust rocket engine and a 47,500 lbf thrust rocket engine, called the “NewtonOne” and “NewtonTwo” respectively. Further, the NewtonOne engine has successfully completed a full-mission duty cycle on the test stand, firing for the five-minute duration expected of the upper stage engine on a typical flight to orbit. These tests are being conducted on two new state-of-the-art test stands that the team designed, assembled and installed internally.

“We are proud of the great progress our propulsion team has made in reaching these milestones,” said Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. “Combined with parallel progress made by the company in advanced tank and avionics technology, we are now well on our way to providing customers with the lowest cost opportunity for small satellite manufacturers and operators to buy a dedicated ride to space.”

The new rocket engines were designed and assembled in-house by Virgin Galactic engineers and technicians, and mark the first firings of engines designed and built by the privately-funded company, owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi’s aabar Investments PJS.

As part of the ongoing test program, the NewtonOne engine has now been fired dozens of times, achieving the target thrust during a full-duration test. The test team has successfully completed as many as six distinct test firings in a single day, as a demonstration of the rapid test-retest capability critical to the liquid engine program. The larger NewtonTwo engine has also been fired multiple times at short duration, with longer duration firings scheduled to occur in the coming months. Additionally, Virgin Galactic engineers and technicians successfully completed a quick turnaround test in which engines were swapped out and fired within 12 hours, an important early demonstration of LauncherOne’s responsive, quick call-up capability and of the versatility of both the engines and the test stand.

“The unique environment in Mojave enables the team to design, manufacture, assemble and test the engines in a single location, which allows us to make progress swiftly,” said Whitesides.

Both engines were custom-designed by Virgin Galactic to serve as the propulsion system for the LauncherOne satellite launch vehicle, which uses a single NewtonOne on the upper stage and a single NewtonTwo on the main stage. Both engines are simple, pressure-fed LOX/RP-1 systems built with a low part-count design. The NewtonTwo engine is a scaled-up version of the NewtonOne, sized to serve as the first stage engine for LauncherOne, with a nozzle optimized for air-launched performance. Powered by those two engines, LauncherOne will carry small satellites to low-Earth orbit affordably and responsively, enabling a new generation of private and government missions.

Talented and passionate applicants interested in joining Virgin Galactic can find job openings on the propulsion team and across all areas of the company by visiting www.virgingalactic.com/careers

  • jb

    and the world is asking….why not doing something similar for ss2…mmmm

  • mfck

    So, the question is will NewtonTwo fit into SS2 and will its 47,500 lbf be enough versus the [supposed] 60,000 lbf of the current RM2?

  • HyperJ

    My prediction: Within 6 months we will get a press release stating exactly that – That SS2 is going liquid. “as many as six distinct test firings in a single day” – They are not going to be blind to that capability.

  • jb

    I forgot about this post from 18 months ago… that answers that http://www.parabolicarc.com/2012/07/20/a-ha-spaceshiptwos-parallel-engine-program-revealed/

    [quote]LauncherOne will be powered by a two-stage, liquid-fueled rocket, now in initial development by Virgin Galactic. The same rocket also is intended to ultimately replace the non-reusable RM2 hybrid motor that will power the SS2 to suborbit, Virgin says….[/quote]

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Some quotes from an NBCNews article:
    “Pomerantz said there are currently no plans to use the Newtons on SpaceShipTwo. But when it’s time to think about point-to-point suborbital space travel on SpaceShipThree, more powerful versions of the Newton propulsion system could well be part of those plans.”

    “Those kind of future vehicles — the SpaceShipThrees and SpaceShipFours, et cetera — are going to require more advanced propulsion than what we need for SpaceShipTwo,” Pomerantz said. “The liquid rocket engines we’re testing now will help us get into service quickly with a great product in the form of LauncherOne, while also helping us get smarter and more capable so that we are ready to power those future vehicles when the time comes.”

  • Douglas Messier

    I don’t take discussions of hypersonic point-to-point travel very seriously at this point. A lot of things have to happen with materials, engines, aerodynamics, control surfaces and other areas before anything like that can happen. It’s a very complicated problem, there are many unknowns, and it will require no small amount of money.

    It’s being worked on primarily by the military, which wants hypersonic weapons. Eventually, those developments will likely filter into civilian uses, but it’s unclear when — or whether — it would be possible to develop civilian passenger transports akin to today’s airliners. Or whether they will go into widespread use or be limited to high-income individuals like the Concorde.

    It’s unclear what SpaceShipTwo would contribute to the development path for hypersonic travel. It could very well do so, and there could be solid plans for follow-ups to SpaceShipTwo. One thing is clear: it’s a great marketing tool for a company that already runs airlines on multiple continents. A great vision to put out there for the public. And Branson has talked about hypersonic point-to-point potentially taking decades to achieve.

  • mfck

    Is it theoretically possible for suborbital point-to-point rocket powered flight to be more energy efficient than atmospheric powered flight at comparable travel times? Like what’s easier to fight – gravity or drag?

  • Richard

    This just makes your previous article on the RM2 test logs even more powerful as they contain no useful info, but these contain power output, duration, turn around times etc. and they are from the same company so ‘should’ contain roughly similar data?. The RM2 data looks even more as if it’s built to be confusing rather than informative.

  • windbourne

    interesting question.

  • savuporo

    Suborbital point-to-point rocket is another term for ICBM.