Feeds

UK gov to fund Virgin mothership micro-sat launcher

Pocket rocket to launch from WhiteKnightTwo jet

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

The British government is reportedly prepared to fund development of a rocket able to put small satellites into orbit, launched from the WhiteKnightTwo "mothership" piggyback jet which will carry Richard Branson's planned space-tourism rocketplanes to startup altitude.

Flight International reports today that "a senior official" at the British National Space Centre has said that the proposed "LauncherOne" project will receive UK government backing "through to the end". The BNSC is an alliance of UK government bodies which coordinates national civil space efforts: the nearest thing Blighty has to a space agency.

According to Flight, the LauncherOne plan would see the new WhiteKnightTwo piggyback jet carrying a new rocket tipped with a "micro satellite" payload weighing up to 200kg. Having been lifted up into the stratosphere by the mothership, the rocket would then be able to put the small sat into low orbit.

WhiteKnightTwo is currently in flight testing: the accompanying SpaceShipTwo suborbital joyride rocketplanes are in development, intended to carry wealthy thrillseekers on a brief ballistic trip into space. The combo mothership/rocketplane system is based on the famous SpaceShipOne+WhiteKnightOne which won the Ansari X-Prize for the first private spaceflight in 2004.

Flight reports that the LauncherOne notion is a collaboration between beardy biz kingpin Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic space-joyride operation and well-known British small sat company Surrey Satellite Technology, makers of the initial Galileo satnav test bird among other things. Surrey Satellite apparently has trouble finding launch spaces for its products, and would find LauncherOne very handy.

"Two thirds of our missions are spacecraft below 200kg and launch availability is a real challenge for us," company exec Philip Davies told the magazine.

A similar concept already exists in the form of the Pegasus rocket used by American firm Orbital Sciences to launch satellites from aboard a modified TriStar airliner. The Pegasus has already been used successfully more than twenty times over the last decade; it can carry one satellite of up to 450kg, or two smaller ones in the proposed LauncherOne league. ®

The Power of One Infographic

More from The Register

next story
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
Jurassic squawk: Dinos were Earth's early FEATHERED friends
Boffins research: Ancient dinos may all have had 'potential' fluff
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.