While much of the news coverage of the Oct. 31 Virgin Galactic crash focused on the effect on space tourism, the tragedy actually had broader commercial implications. The company is developing the LauncherOne rocket to take small satellites into low-earth orbit. The project involves the use of a carrier aircraft that takes the rocket to an altitude of about 50,000 feet, where it would then launch into space with payloads of up to 500 pounds. LauncherOne is expected to begin flights as early as 2016. It will be geared toward what the company sees as an underserved market for small satellites that do not require large rockets, such as the Atlas V and Delta IV, to get them into orbit. Virgin Galactic also plans to take scientific payloads from universities, research institutions and private companies as part of the Flight Opportunities Program from NASA. In June, NASA announced 12 experiments to be carried by Virgin Galactic, including an electromagnetic field measurement payload from John Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory; a micro satellite attitude-control system from the State University of New York, Buffalo; and an experiment by Made In Space Inc., a Moffett Field company developing 3-D printers for use in space. Attempts to reach a representative of Virgin Galactic to find out how the crash would affect its participation in the NASA program were not successful. Virgin Galactic has local competition in the sphere. Masten Space Systems, based in Mojave, is also part of the Flight Opportunities Program, and Stratolaunch Systems, also at Mojave, is building its own carrier aircraft and rocket to take payloads and satellites into space. Aerospace industry observer Greg Autry, an assistant professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business, said the space shuttle program had promised to take academic and private experiments into space. However, researchers were disappointed as flights were not as frequent as originally planned, the cost was prohibitive and civilians were not allowed to fly following the Challenger explosion in 1986. “I suspect we will see research payloads before passengers as that is obviously a great way to test without passengers and generate revenue simultaneously,” he said.