Virgin Galactic, the Mojave-based spaceflight firm which is developing spaceships to take people to space, has turned its eye towards satellite launches. According to the company on Wednesday, it has created a new, air-launch rocket called "LauncherOne", which was designed to deliver small satellites into orbit. Virgin Galactic said it has raised "substantial funding" from aabar Investments PJS for the effort, and has signed four private companies as future customers of the launch vehicle. The new project is an interesting approach for Virgin Galactic, which has been collecting deposits for future, human spaceflights on its vehicles, which are in the midst of testing and still need to gain approval of authorities for flights; the company said it has now collected deposits for 529 future astronauts.
Virgin Galactic ssaid that LauncherOne will be capable of carrying up to 500 pounds (225 kilograms) to orbit, for less than $10 million. The satellite-carrying rockets will be launched from its WhiteKnightTwo aircraft, which it has been developing as a launch vehicle for its various spacecraft. Virgin Galactic said its signed customers include Skybox Imaging, GeoOptics, Spaceflight Inc. and Planetary Astroids, the newly founded asteroid mining venture which involves Peter Diamandis of the X Prize Foundation. The X Prize Foundation is the group which spurred the creation of Virgin Galactic, after it awarded a prize to the creators of SpaceShipOne, the predecessor to Virgin Galactic's current space vehicle.