Video of Virgin Orbit Engine Test

Video Caption: We are always excited to test our most powerful engine, the NewtonThree, for long duration. During this specific test, we completed a full ‘mission duty cycle’–a fancy way of saying that we fired the engine for as long as it would fire on a full flight to orbit. We also gimbaled the engine, meaning we changed the angle of thrust by several degrees during the course of the firing. The ability to gimbal is important, since that is one of the main ways a rocket ‘steers’ on its way to space!

As a reminder: our LauncherOne rocket has two rocket engines on board: a single NewtonThree on the main stage and a single NewtonFour on the upper stage. You can see a full duration NewtonFour firing here: https://youtu.be/AGZF4o-gwHk

Virgin Orbit NewtonFour Hotfire Video

Video Caption: LauncherOne is powered by two rocket engines—a single NewtonThree on the main stage and a single NewtonFour on the upper stage. Both engines are turbopump-fed, gas generator cycle, LOX/RP-1 engines developed in-house here at Virgin Orbit. In this test, the rocket engine gimbals–in other words, it pivots–over a large range of motion. In flight, gimbaling allows the rocket engine to change the direction of thrust–and thereby steer the rocket. We’ve added a diagram on the left hand side of the screen to show the orientation of the engine throughout the test.

Video of Virgin Orbit NewtonFour Hot Fire

Video Caption: LauncherOne is powered by two rocket engines—a single NewtonThree on the main stage and a single NewtonFour on the upper stage. Both engines are turbopump-fed, gas generator cycle, LOX/RP-1 engines developed in-house here at Virgin Orbit. Here’s a typical test of the NewtonFour on our test stand up in Mojave, CA, in which the engine runs for a full six minutes—the same duration it would run during a full orbital launch. By popular demand, we’re posting this in real time–all six minutes of rockety goodness!

LauncherOne’s Long & Winding Road to Orbit: A Timeline

LauncherOne stage separation. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
LauncherOne stage separation. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

If the current schedule holds, Virgin Galactic’s revamped LauncherOne program will enter commercial service sometime in 2018 after roughly a decade of development. During that period, the program has been redefined several times, lost two of the key people hired to lead it, and changed its launch platform from WhiteKnightTwo to a jumbo jet. The estimates for the initial flight tests also have slipped by about  four years from 2013 to 2017.

Below is a timeline of the program’s major events, milestones, announcements, hires and departures, and other things. Feel free to let me know if I’ve missed anything significant.

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Virgin Galactic Successfully Fires NewtonThree Engine

MOJAVE, Calif., September 28, 2015 (Virgin Galactic PR) – Successful test firings of key propulsion components marked the latest sign of progress for Virgin Galactic’s dedicated small satellite launch vehicle, LauncherOne. Working on custom-built test stands at the company’s Mojave, California location, Virgin Galactic engineers and technicians achieved longer duration, steady-state firings of LauncherOne’s main stage engine in the same week as multiple full duration firings of the gas generator for LauncherOne’s upper stage engine.

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Virgin Galactic Focused on Larger Satellite Launch Vehicle

Artist's conception of WhiteKnightTwo with LauncherOne (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
Artist’s conception of WhiteKnightTwo with LauncherOne (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic is developing a rocket more powerful than LauncherOne to fulfill a recent order for 39 launches from its global satellite Internet partner OneWeb, according to sources familiar with the program.

LauncherTwo will use Virgin Galactic’s largest liquid fuel engine, NewtonThree, in its first stage, according to sources that insisted upon anonymity. A new engine, NewtonFour, will be developed for the second stage.

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