Speaking at the launcher panel at Satellite 2015 in Washington D.C., Virgin Galactic President, Steve Isakowitz, proclaimed that the small satellite LEO (Low Earth Orbit) market would be better served by a dedicated launch service rather than having to share larger launch vehicles as secondary payloads. According to Isakowitz, Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne vehicle, which will be able to carry 250kg payloads to LEO for under US$10 million, benefits from being air launched. This allows regular launches without being tied to local weather issues, and it can flexibly deliver payloads to a wide variety of inclinations.
The market case for LauncherOne was supported by small-sat launch arranger/broker Curt Blake, President of Spaceflight Inc., who stated that Spaceflight had 200 spacecraft on backlog for launch. He noted that finding appropriate shared rides on large rockets is problematic, with smaller satellites often becomng subject to delays due to the large primary payload.
LauncherOne currently has no firm contracts, Virgin Galactic is talking to Skybox and has an association with the planned OneWeb constellation. Testing of the launch service will commence in 2016 with commercial launches beginning in 2017. Potentially the company could offer up to 23 flights per year.