At the Farnborough International Airshow this week, Virgin Galactic announced the LauncherOne — an air-launched rocket designed to take small satellites into space for less than $10 million. The LauncherOne can carry payloads of up to 500 pounds and is launched from Virgin's WhiteKnightTwo.
Customers are already interested in taking advantage of the LauncherOne — Skybox and Sierra Nevada Space Systems have announced that they will be creating specialized satellites that match the LauncherOne design. Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides explains that "miniaturized satellite components and constrained budgets are driving commercial clients, academic users and government agencies all to clamor for an affordable, dedicated launch vehicle" and that "small satellite launch is an area ripe for disruption."
This may indeed be the case, as the desire to send small, private satellites into space as cheaply as possible was the original impetus for the CubeSat design specification dating all the way back to 1999. The ArduSat project, which aims to make orbital research even cheaper by leasing out Arduino hardware, has rasied nearly triple its $35,000 goal.
If launch tests go according to plan, Virgin Galactic expects the LaucherOne to take its first commercial journey sometime in 2016.