Virgin Galactic will use jet as rocket mothership

Image: Virgin Galactic jet
An artist’s conception shows a 747 jet carrying a LauncherOne rocket. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

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.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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