A Closer Look at Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne

LauncherOne ignites after being released from Cosmic Girl 747. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Orbit has released a service guide for its LauncherOne. Below are excerpts from the document. You can read the full guide here.

LauncherOne System (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

Payload Capability

  • Up to 300 kg / 661 lbm to 500 km / 270 nmi Sun-Synchronous Orbit (SSO)
  • Up to 500 kg / 1100 lbm to 230 km / 124 nmi circular 0 degree inclination Low Earth Orbit (LEO)
LauncherOne sample payload configurations (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

Payload Dynamic Volume

  • 1262 mm / 49.7 inch constant cylindrical diameter
  • 2123 mm / 83.6 inch constant cylindrical length
  • 3543 mm / 139.5 inch overall payload fairing envelope length

Launch Altitudes/Inclinations

Orbital payload delivery performance curves (Credit: Virgin Orbit)
  • Up to 1200 km depending upon payload and inclination
  • West Coast US (Mojave Air and Space Port): 60 to 180 degrees inclination
  • East Coast US : 0 to 60 degrees inclination

Launch Schedule

  • Flexibility to conduct launch from any licensed spaceport facility
  • Emphasis on reducing time-to-launch; 6 months for a typical primary payload
  • Flexible launch windows to accommodate schedule changes/variation
LauncherOne payload processing in Long Beach. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

Payload Processing

  • Independently-operated customer payload processing facility with ISO Level 8 (100k class) clean room in Long Beach, CA
  • Options exist for receipt of pre-encapsulated payloads

Launch Locations

Mojave Air and Space Port. (Credit: Mojave Air and Space Port)

LauncherOne operates independently, and because we are not reliant on a government maintained launch range, we are unaffected by many of the external factors that can delay ground based launches from federal ranges such as weather, offline radar tracking assets, vehicles in the launch pad keep-out zone, and manifest jams on the increasingly crowded Eastern and Western ranges.

The primary spaceport for LauncherOne is the Mojave Air and Space Port (MHV) in California. Virgin Orbit has completed launch assessments for MHV and is assessing requirements for a variety of lower latitude operating locations, including the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, Kona International Airport (KOA) in Hawaii, and former Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Puerto Rico. Virgin Orbit can also assess alternative launch locations and will pursue approvals to operate from these locations as necessary to support our customers’ needs.

The baseline flight profile involves release of the LauncherOne launch vehicle over the Pacific Ocean, tens of kilometers from the California coastline, after a flight of approximately 30 minutes from Mojave. For low inclination launches, the drop point is optimally located based on the inclination desired for the mission. Due to the large range of the carrier aircraft and the flexible locations for spaceports, the drop point can be as low as 0 degrees latitude for 0 degree inclined orbits. In this case, the drop point could be over 1000 km from the launch port.

Launch Operations Flow

For standard launch operations, launch occurs within three days of payload encapsulation and transport to the spaceport. Key events in the launch schedule and typical timing relative to takeoff are as follows:

01LauncherOne vehicle integration and checkout (L-3 days and earlier)
02Payload mate to LauncherOne (L-3 days)
03Launch Readiness Review (L-2 days)
04Rollout and mate of LauncherOne with payload to carrier aircraft (L-1 day)
05Propellant loading (T-6 hours to T-60 minutes)
06747 aircraft engine start and L1 GSE disconnect (T-30 minutes)
07747 aircraft take-off; LauncherOne purge provided to payload encapsulated environment by the carrier aircraft (T-30 minutes)
08LauncherOne release and launch (T+0 minutes)
09Second stage ignition (T+ 3 minutes)
10Payload injection (Mission dependent, but approximately T+60 min)