(Newsroom America) -- The world's first commercial spaceline, Virgin Galactic, has announced "LauncherOne," a new air-launched rocket specifically designed to deliver small satellites into orbit.
With substantial funding already raised from Virgin Galactic's partner aabar Investments PJS, and with commercial flights of this new orbital launch vehicle expected to begin by 2016, Virgin Galactic aims to offer frequent and dedicated launches at the world's lowest prices.
Virgin Galactic also announced that four private companies have already put down deposits as future LauncherOne customers, expressing their intent to purchase a total of several dozen launches, which would exceed the level of early commitment of any previous new launch vehicle.
Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard Branson revealed that the company has now accepted deposits for suborbital flights on SpaceShipTwo from 529 future astronauts, a number greater than the total count of people who have been to space throughout human history.
This news comes following a flurry of recent test activity and confirmation that all major components of SpaceShipTwo's rocket system have been qualified for powered flight, on track to begin before the year's end.
"Virgin Galactic's goal is to revolutionize the way we get to space," Branson said.
"I'm immensely proud of what we have already achieved as we draw near to regular suborbital flights on SpaceShipTwo. Now, LauncherOne is bringing the price of satellite launch into the realm of affordability for innovators everywhere, from start-ups and schools to established companies and national space agencies. It will be a critical new tool for the global research community, enabling us all to learn about our home planet more quickly and affordably."
LauncherOne will be a two-stage vehicle capable of carrying up to 500 pounds (225 kilograms) to orbit for prices below $10 million.
The rocket will be launched from Virgin Galactic's proven WhiteKnightTwo, the uniquely capable aircraft also designed to carry SpaceShipTwo aloft to begin her suborbital missions.
Several LauncherOne customers were recognized at the event, representing a broad range of commercial satellite applications. Those named were Skybox Imaging (Skybox), a Silicon Valley-based firm that recently announced it has raised $91 million for a high resolution imaging constellation; GeoOptics Inc., a U.S.-based company developing a constellation of non-imaging remote sensing satellites; Spaceflight, Inc., the aggregator and integrator of small satellites; and Planetary Resources, Inc., the newly-announced, billionaire-backed asteroid mining venture.