Virgin Galactic showed off its latest mothership today: a Boeing 747-400 jet that it acquired from its corporate cousins at Virgin Atlantic to serve as the platform for its LauncherOne rocket.
LauncherOne is designed to be launched from a high-flying carrier airplane and send small-scale satellites into orbit. It will use a liquid-fueled engine called Newton, which is still under development. The launch system is expected to be in operation by 2018, and it’s already been tapped by OneWeb to help put a global Internet constellation into orbit.
It was previously thought that LauncherOne would use Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo carrier plane. That’s the mothership being used for SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic’s rocket-powered passenger space plane. But Virgin Galactic said the 747 was more suited for LauncherOne’s upgraded payload capacity and flight rate.