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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Virgin Galactic Suddenly Very Chatty About Engine Progress

Newton engine (Credi: Virgin Galactic)
Newton engine (Credi: Virgin Galactic)

The exclusive, multi-platform partnership that Virgin Galactic has forged with NBCUniversal has begun to bear fruit over the past two months. The media giant has signed on to chronicle Sir Richard Branson’s flight aboard SpaceShipTwo and all the events leading up to it.

In November, Sir Richard Branson phoned into CNBC from his Necker Island retreat in the Caribbean to announce that Virgin Galactic would begin accepting the virtual currency Bitcoin for SpaceShipTwo reservations.

A month later, NBC News got into the act, with Science Editor Alan Boyle and a film crew trekking out to Mojave for a powered flight of SpaceShipTwo. They went away disappointed when the test was scrubbed due to a rare patch of bad weather in the High Desert.

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Virgin Galactic Reaches Milestone in LauncherOne Engine Testing

vg_newton_engine
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.

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