Virgin Galactic’s target passengers aren’t just space tourists anymore, the company is also signing up space-faring satellites.The newest addition to the Virgin Galactic fleet is the LauncherOne, a satellite launcher. Richard Branson announced plans for the new craft at the Farnborough Airshow in the U.K. today, saying that the goal is to make satellite launching (comparatively) affordable for private organizations and laboratories, even universities and schools. Virgin Galactic has been developing the launcher along with a low-cost satellite builder Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) for some time now.
Virgin Galactic already has investment from four companies: Imaging technology builders SkyBox Imaging and GeoOptics, satellite builder Spaceflight Inc., and everyone’s favorite asteroid mining company, Planetary Resources. Together, they’ve paid up for “a total of several dozen launches,” Virgin Galactic noted in a press release. The company anticipates that commercial flights on the LauncherOne will begin in 2016.
Another British spacecraft, the Skylon, also got a bit of the limelight at the Farnborough Airshow, when UK Science minister announced that the government would be looking into using the craft. Reaction Engines, a private company, has been testing a new engine inside the Skylon, which aims to cut down cross-continental flight time and also power the craft’s space adventures.