- Standard clamshell design
- 300-500kg — typical mass of satellites we deliver to orbit
- 35,000 ft — typical altitude at which we release the rocket from the pylon
- Second stage engine
- 6 min run time over multiple burns
- 5,000 lbf
- 17,500 mph — typical max speed
- ~70 ft in length
- ~57,000 lbs takeoff weight, payload included
- Two stage expendable rocket
All Carbon Structures
- All-carbon composite design, including linerless tanks, minimizes mass
- Composite components built in house, giving us full control over production quantity and timing
- First stage engine
- 3 min run time
- ~75,000 lbf
- 8,000 mph – typical max speed
One pilot, one co-pilot, three flight engineers on-board for a standard mission.
Our customized 747-400 is the world’s most reusable launch stage and requires minimal maintenance.
Designed and built in-house, the pylon can carry up to 85,000 lbs.
Air launch gives LauncherOne a performance boost, igniting at Mach 0.9 and above 2/3 of the atmosphere.
The key to Virgin Orbit’s high rate of production is our vertically oriented approach combined with the close proximity of our engineering, manufacturing and payload processing operations. Centralizing our operations in Southern California has allowed us to dramatically reduce testing and development cycles relative to industry averages.
Thanks to a partnership with DMG Mori, Virgin Orbit is the proud owner of one of the first hybrid additive-subtractive manufacturing machines in the world. This revolutionary technology saves us months in production cycles, reducing the time to craft an engine thrust nozzle by an order of magnitude.
Cosmic Girl can take off from thousands of airports, but any rocket, even an air-launched one, has to meet rigorous safety standards. Our fully automated flight safety truly unlocks the flexibility only an air-launched system can deliver, as it allows us to safely expand our portfolio of launch locations.
We’ve been building, developing and improving LauncherOne since 2012, and after more than half a decade of real-world testing results, we think we’ve finally hit the sweet spot between our rocket’s size, cost and payload mass to orbit.
Hot-firing an engine on a test stand is the easy part. What's trickier is designing a rocket that is agile, precise, and most importantly, reliable. It’s true that we’re already thinking about what comes next in our development cycle — but we’re very proud of the capabilities LauncherOne brings to the market. We can’t wait to see the lasting positive effects of the orbital missions our launch service enables.
The path that eventually led to LauncherOne began with a simple observation: space is critical to all of our lives here on Earth, and yet we have limited our own exploitation of it. For small satellites especially, launches have been too expensive, too time-consuming and too inaccessible. It was obvious that the industry needed a dedicated small satellite launcher, and fast. So back in 2011, a small group of thinkers in Virgin Galactic’s Advanced Concepts team set out to find a solution…
NewtonOne and NewtonTwo
We knew that if we wanted to get serious about orbital spaceflight, a liquid propellant engine was our best bet because of its advanced performance capabilities. What we didn’t know was how to answer some fundamental questions about the right way to build an orbital rocket. So we learned — starting with the first iterations of our family of engines, Newton 1 and 2, which were designed to power LauncherOne’s upper stage and first stage, respectively. Small and pressure fed, the first Newton pair was relatively simple to develop. But we quickly realized we needed to go bigger.
NewtonThree and NewtonFour
The Newton 3 and 4 engines that currently power LauncherOne are significantly more powerful than their predecessors. We also introduced a pair of turbopumps to our design, trading a small hit to ISP for improved mass efficiency, as we could now store our propellants at lower pressure.
The final hurdle before first launch is a slew of flight tests over the Mojave desert. We’ve already flown with the pylon by itself, and now we’ll practice flying Cosmic Girl with a LauncherOne rocket mated to her wing. This allows us to collect crucial aerodynamics data and verify that our launch pylon is in tip-top shape, and will also give us the confidence to conduct a real orbital mission soon after.
First Wind Tunnel Tests
By 2015, we were testing high fidelity models in sub-sonic and supersonic wind-tunnels, collecting critical data that told us how the rocket would perform during its powered flight through the atmosphere and into space. In addition, we had begun work with NASA’s Ames Research Center, modeling and simulating the separation of LauncherOne from Cosmic Girl.
It’s All Coming Together…
An all-carbon composite emerged as the obvious choice for most of LauncherOne’s structures, including our unique linerless tanks. The material is lightweight but strong, and new advances in automation also allow us to produce our carbon fiber structures at an accelerated clip. We can easily manufacture our largest tank — which holds more than 26,000 lbs of liquid oxygen — in just two days.
Launch Campaign Rehearsal
Qualifying LauncherOne for commercial flight required years of iterative testing, both in the air with Cosmic Girl and on the ground at our Mojave test site. Before launching any satellites, we first had to practice firing the engines for full duration, popping open the payload fairing, releasing the rocket from under Cosmic Girl’s wing, and countless other procedures over and over again until we got it right.