Virgin Orbit Explores Options for a Three Stage Rocket for Interplanetary Missions

Virgin Orbit Explores Options for a Three Stage Rocket for Interplanetary Missions

Virgin Orbit expects to complete the maiden flight of its standard two-stage LauncherOne rocket this year. Currently, a very large contingent of Virgin Orbit staff is in Mojave, California, working on the first rocket. The rocket will be attached to Cosmic Girl, Virgin Orbit’s structurally enhanced Boeing 747, and run through a series of wet dress rehearsals

Fremont, CA: Virgin Orbit prepares for the first flight of its LauncherOne smallsat rocket as it begins to select an engine for the three-stage variant, capable of delivering payloads to other planets. Originally, LauncherOne is a two-stage liquid-propellant rocket, which Virgin Orbit plans to launch from the wing of a modified Boeing 747 aircraft. The modified rocket is capable of launching 300 to 500 kilograms to lower earth orbit, with the exact amount determined by orbital inclination.

According to Virgin Orbit advanced concepts director John Fuller, the company is in the process of deciding between three highly energetic third stage options for LauncherOne which would enable the rocket to launch up to 50 kilograms to Mars or 70 kilograms to Venus. The third stage variant of LauncherOne will also have the ability to launch 100 kilograms to the moon or towards Lagrange points. “What we do is we take that third stage and bring the overall impulse of the vehicle up to a point where we can reach very high energies to launch to cis-lunar, interplanetary or even asteroid targets,” Fuller said.

The company expects to complete the maiden flight of its standard two-stage LauncherOne rocket this year. Currently, a very large contingent of Virgin Orbit staff is in Mojave, California, working on the first rocket. The rocket will be attached to Cosmic Girl, Virgin Orbit’s structurally enhanced Boeing 747, and run through a series of wet dress rehearsals in which the rocket is fueled up but not launched before the actual mission is conducted. Virgin Orbit is likely to start its third stage LauncherOne for Polish satellite manufacturer SatRevolution, in the third quarter of 2022.

Virgin Orbit formed a consortium with SatRevolution and close to a dozen Polish universities aimed at conducting the first commercial smallsat mission to Mars. Fuller said Virgin Orbit would reveal pricing for interplanetary missions soon.

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