Virgin Galactic is moving the development and manufacturing of its LauncherOne satellite-carrier rocket from the Mojave Air & Space Port to Long Beach.
The commercial aerospace company founded by billionaire Sir Richard Branson announced Thursday it has leased 150,000 square feet at the Long Beach Airport.
LauncherOne is being developed to launch small payloads of up to 500 pounds into space at a lower cost. Plans call for it to be launched from an aircraft at 50,000 feet, where it would then rocket into space. The first test flight is not expected until perhaps next year.
The project has attracted the attention of small satellite manufacturers and operators, including OneWeb Ltd., a satellite technology startup proposing to create a satellite network to supply high-speed Internet connections. Virgin Galactic announced last month it would be a launch provider of the satellites.
Virgin Galactic Chief Executive George Whitesides said the new facility will better serve the company’s expanding customer base.
“The technical progress our team has made designing and testing LauncherOne has enabled a move into a dedicated facility to produce the rocket at quantity,” Whitesides said in a prepared statement.
Virgin Galactic said it is retaining its SpaceShipTwo development team in Mojave. SpaceShipTwo is a reusable space vehicle that is being tested to take paying passengers to a sub-orbital altitude. It also will keep operations for WhiteKnightTwo, the carrier aircraft for both SpaceShipTwo and LauncherOne, in Mojave.
The company is currently building a second SpaceShipTwo after the first craft crashed in October killing one pilot and injuring a second. The National Transportation Safety Board continues an investigation into the cause of the crash.