Well on its way toward becoming the first commercial spaceliner, Virgin Galactic is unveiling a service for cargo as well.
Unlike passengers traveling aboard the suborbital SpaceShipTwo, satellites flying on LauncherOne, won't be coming back home. The new service, announced at the Farnborough International Airshow in London on Wednesday, is intended to put small satellites weighing less than 500 pounds into orbit around Earth.
Both vehicles will get a boost from Virgin Galactic's carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo.
The six-passenger, two-pilot SpaceShipTwo is designed to give passengers a short suborbital hop beyond the atmosphere, similar to the flights made by pioneering U.S. astronauts Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom in 1961.
LauncherOne, a two-stage, liquid-fueled rocket designed for cargo only, will go much faster and higher, depositing its payloads into low-Earth orbit.
"I believe this new vehicle will create a long-overdue shakeup of the whole satellite industry, disrupting current norms and limitations in exactly the way SpaceShipTwo has for human space travel and space-based science research," Branson said.
The headcount for rides on SpaceShipTwo, which costs $200,000 per seat, is up to 529, Virgin Galactic president George Whitesides said.
Branson said he and his children plan to be aboard the first operational SpaceShipTwo flight next year. The vehicle currently is undergoing testing by manufacturer Scaled Composites in Mojave, Calif.
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LauncherOne, which is expected to debut in 2016, will cost less than $10 million. Virgin Galactic is working under a DARPA contract to try to get that price as low as $1 million.
Image: Artist's conception of LauncherOne after its release from carrier aircraft White Knight Two. Credit: Virgin Galactic