[Via Satellite 12-04-2015] To accommodate an increase in the payload capability of LauncherOne, Virgin Galactic has swapped the carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo for a Boeing 747-400. The larger aircraft, previously operated by Virgin Atlantic under the nickname Cosmic Girl, will provide a dedicated launch platform for the LauncherOne orbital vehicle.
Virgin Galactic doubled LauncherOne’s performance to 200kg for standard Sun-Synchronous Orbit (SSO) missions in September, with the option to purchase further increases in performance to the same orbit and for launches that reach other altitudes or inclinations. The launch system is capable of launching over 400kg of payload to other orbits.
Boeing 747s have supported a variety of special missions, including the Space Shuttle Enterprise test flight program, NASA’s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft program, the Pratt and Whitney flying testbed, and flight test of the X-45 Phantom Ray. The LauncherOne rocket will be mounted to the carrier aircraft under the left wing, adjacent to the position that has been used by other 747s to ferry a fifth engine.
Cosmic Girl has completed initial inspections and tests. Prior to the start of the wing modification, VT San Antonio Aerospace, a Maintenance, Repair and Operations (MRO) organization, will conduct a regularly scheduled maintenance check.
“Selecting the 747 airframe provides a dedicated platform that gives us the capacity to substantially increase our payload to orbit without increasing our prices,” said George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic.
LauncherOne offers 200 Kg SSO missions for a price below $10 million. Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft will remain the mothership for the company’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceflight vehicle.
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