The UK government is prepared to fully support the development of the air launched micro satellite carrying rocket proposed by Virgin Galactic and Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL).
Although SSTL has written to the UK government's civil space activity coordinating body, the British National Space Centre (BNSC), requesting phase A study support for the launcher a senior BNSC official told Flight that it will see the project through to the end.
Potentially starting this April the 12-month study will produce a concept design, development schedule and costs. SSTL started talking to Virgin Galactic in mid-2008 and its own market analysis convinced it that the growing worldwide micro satellites market would support such a service. An all composite two-stage rocket could place 200kg (440lb) into low Earth orbit. This analysis was provided to Virgin Galactic, which agreed with SSTL's conclusions, and has since named the rocket LauncherOne.
"Two thirds of our missions are spacecraft below 200kg and launch availability is a real challenge for us," says SSTL UK and Europe business development manager Philip Davies, referring to the company's difficulty in finding scheduled launches with payloads that can piggy-back its customers' satellites.
He added that a third party would have to develop the rocket, neither SSTL or Virgin Galactic will do it. While US company Scaled Composites is developing LauncherOne's WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, Davies thinks that the rocket manufacturer could be a UK company although he expects some US motor components will be needed.