Under the plans, LauncherOne rockets will be mounted under the left wing of an aircraft known as Cosmic Girl, in the position that is usually used to carry a fifth engine on other jets, according to company. Cosmic Girl will take the rocket to a high altitude before hurling it into orbit.
“Air launch enables us to provide rapid, responsive service to our satellite customers on a schedule set by their business and operational needs, rather than the constraints of national launch ranges,” George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.
The LauncherOne spacecraft’s capacity has been doubled to ferry payloads of over 400 kilograms to other orbits, and 200 kilogram into the standard sun-synchronous orbit, all for less than $10 million.
Branson is competing with other entrepreneurs to start the $6 billion commercial launch business that could shorten the waiting time for those who want to send cargos into space – hurling $200 million satellites nowadays can take years to realize. Launching smaller craft from planes could be a solution to that problem.
Virgin hopes to start testing LauncherOne in 2017, with a further aim of having it fully operational by 2018.