Successful test firings of key propulsion components suggest Virgin Galactic’s dedicated small satellite launch vehicle, LauncherOne, continues to make good progress. Working on custom-built test stands at the company’s Mojave, California, location, Virgin Galactic engineers and technicians achieved longer duration, steady-state firings of LauncherOne’s main stage engine in the same week as multiple full duration firings of the gas generator for LauncherOne’s upper stage engine.
LauncherOne’s orbital flights are achieved using two rocket engines: a single 73,500 lbf thrust NewtonThree main stage engine, and a single 5,000 lbf thrust NewtonFour upper stage engine. Both the NewtonThree and the NewtonFour are highly reliable, pump-fed LOX/RP-1 liquid rocket engines designed, tested and built by Virgin Galactic. Previously, Virgin Galactic completed successful test campaigns on pressure-fed demonstrator engines in each thrust class – the NewtonOne and NewtonTwo engines.
The latest successful test firing of the NewtonThree engine ran for more than 20 seconds, reaching steady-state operation and allowing the team to capture high quality data about the engine during start-up, operation and safe shutdown. Within the same week, Virgin Galactic conducted multiple full-duration test firings of the NewtonFour gas generator, each exceeding six minutes in duration.
Both the NewtonThree and the NewtonFour engines are fed by turbopump assemblies designed in partnership with Barber Nichols, a veteran designer and manufacturer that has previously made turbopumps for NASA, the US military, and private industry. Engine development is expected to continue over the coming months, including the testing of the full flight configuration.
LauncherOne is designed to provide affordable, reliable and responsive orbital launches for small satellites. Virgin Galactic claims that for a price below US$10m, LauncherOne will be able to launch 200kg into the high-altitude Sun-Synchronous Orbits most commonly desired by small satellite missions, a marked increase from the system’s originally projected performance to that orbit. Customers will also be able to purchase even further increases in performance to the same orbit, as well as launches that reach other altitudes or inclinations.
October 2, 2015