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LauncherOne (L1)

LauncherOne with B747-400 [Virgin Galactic]

LauncherOne [Virgin Galactic]

Virgin Galactic, later spun off as Virgin Orbit, announced in July 2012 the design of its new LauncherOne (L1) air-launched space launch system.

LauncherOne was an expendable, two stage rocket with liquid RP-1 kerosene and liquid oxygen as propellants. The first stage was powered by the Newton-3 engine. The second stage, featuring the Newton-1 engine, was reignitable for orbit insertion. Payloads were accommodated within a fairing approximately 1 meter in diameter, with a cylindrical shape for the first 77 cm and a conical section above.

LauncherOne was developed by The Spaceship Company (TSC) of Mojave. TSC was a partnership of Virgin Galactic and Mojave, Calif.-based Scaled Composites, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman. The stages and shroud, including structures, engines, and Launch Vehicle/Pylon Interface, were manufactured at TSC’s FAITH production facility. Other components, such as avionics and secondary subsystems will be delivered to the production facility by world-class suppliers.

After lift-off with the carrier aircraft, LauncherOne was released from the airplane at an altitude of approximately 15 km above mean sea level. LauncherOne did free fall for approximately four seconds before the first stage ignited. The two stages operatde in sequence, with the potential for the second stage to relight, and the payload was delivered to a designated low-earth orbit.

Originally it was to use the same WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) mother ship as the crewed suborbital SpaceShipTwo. Sometimes in 2014, the concept was scaled up for increased performance, using the larger NewtonThree and NewtonFour engines and a Boeing 747-400 carrier plane called "Cosmic Girl" replacing the smaller WhiteKnightTwo.

An improved LauncherOne-1.1 was under development, but was not finished at the time when Vorgi Orbit shut down.

A maiden launch was planned for 2017, but was delayed to 2020. Initially, LauncherOne missions were staged from Mojave Spaceport. Virgin Orbit has completed launch assessments the primary launch site of the Mojave Air and Spaceport (MHV) in California and for a variety of operating locations including the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, NASA Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) in Virginia. Virgin Orbit was prepared to obtain approvals to operate in locations other than Mojave based on customer interest. Newquay airport, Cornwall, in the UK was also selected (and eventually used) as a launchsite. Guam had been selected as a launch base for low-inclination orbits. Toowoomba in Australia was selected in 2022. Virgin Orbit was also assessing launch operations at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport in Hawaii and the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Puerto Rico. Launches from Alcântara Launch Center in Brazil, and Spaceport Oita in Japan were also possible.

In 2023 Virgin Orbit went bankrupt and eventually their assets were auctioned off to different bidders in May 2023.

Version Aircraft Stage 1 Stage 2 Stage 3
LauncherOne (original design) White Knight-2 Stage 1 / NewtonTwo Stage 2 / NewtonOne -
LauncherOne (L1) Boeing 747-400 Stage 1 / NewtonThree Stage 2 / NewtonFour -
LauncherOne (3) (L1) Boeing 747-400 Stage 1 / NewtonThree Stage 2 / NewtonFour Stage 3 / ?
LauncherOne 1.1 (L1.1) Boeing 747-400 Str. Stage 1 / mod. NewtonThree Stage 2 / mod. NewtonFour -
Performance (kg) LEO LPEO SSO GTO GEO MolO IP
LauncherOne (L1) 500 300 - - - -
LauncherOne (3) (L1) -
No.TypNo   Type           Fl.No  Date          LS              Aircraft       Payload 

 1    1    LauncherOne    R2     25.05.2020    Mo RW12/30      B-747-400  F   Starshine 4 / Intern-Sat
 2    2    LauncherOne    R3     17.01.2021    Mo RW12/30      B-747-400      CACTUS 1 / ExoCube 2 / MiTEE 1 / PolarCube / Q-PACE / TechEdSat 7 / CAPE 3 / RadFxSat 2 / PICS 1, 2 /
                                                                              Prometheus 2.8 / Prometheus 2.11
 3    3    LauncherOne    R4     30.06.2021    Mo RW12/30      B-747-400      HALO-Net FF / Gunsmoke-J 4 / CNCE 1 / CNCE 3 / Brik-2 / STORK 4 / STORK 5
 4    4    LauncherOne    R5     13.01.2022    Mo RW12/30      B-747-400      PAN A / PAN B / GEARRS 3 / TechEdSat 13 / ADLER 1 / STORK 3 / SteamSat 2
 5    5    LauncherOne    R6     02.07.2022    Mo RW12/30      B-747-400      Recurve / Slingshot 1 / Gunsmoke-L 1 / NACHOS 2 / MISR-B 1 / CTIM-FD / GPX 2
 6    6    LauncherOne    R7     09.01.2023    Nq RW12/30      B-747-400  F   AMBER 1 / Prometheus 2A, 2B / CIRCE 1, 2 / DOVER / ForgeStar 0 / Aman 1 / STORK 6


 1: failed seconds after ignition due to broken stage 1 high-pressure LOX feed line

Launch sites:

Al  = Alcantara Space Center (CLA), Brazil Brazil
CCK = NASA John F. Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA USA
Gu  = Andersen AFB ?, Guam, Guam GuamMo  = Mojave Air and Space Port, Mojave, California, USA USA
Nq  = Spaceport Cornwall, Newquay, Cornwall, England, UK UK
Oit = Oita Airport, Kunisaki, Oita, Japan Japan
Too = Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport, Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia Australia
WI  = Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Virginia, USA USA

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