Virgin Galactic launcher delayed

We’ve covered space tourism company Virgin Galactic a lot here on Gadling. What hasn’t gotten so much discussion is LauncherOne, a rocket that would take off from the WhiteKnightTwo mother ship, the same ship that carries SpaceshipTwo. While SpaceShipTwo is a space plane that would detach from the mother ship and fly into the high atmosphere, LauncherOne is a more conventional rocket that would carry a satellite weighing up to 440 lbs into low orbit.

Originally it was supposed to start sending satellites into space a year after the space tourism business started, but now LauncherOne is in trouble. The manager of the project has left and there’s no timetable for getting the system operational. One UK satellite company has backed out of discussions about using LauncherOne.

Virgin owner Sir Richard Branson said the tourism business is still on track and will start sending tourists into the highest reaches of the atmosphere within 18 months at the price of $200,000 a pop. More than three hundred people have already signed up.

What does LauncherOne’s troubles mean for space tourism? That’s not so clear. While the LauncherOne isn’t part of Virgin Galactic’s tourism service, it makes the whole program more financially viable. Without the fees charged to satellite owners to use LauncherOne, Virgin Galactic may have to raise its prices or shove in more passengers. Will coach class come to space? Stay tuned.

[Photo courtesy Mark Greenberg and Virgin Galactic]