The fairing splits and falls away, uncovering the payload and third stage. As a result, the rocket deviated from its intended trajectory and was ultimately destroyed by range safety. The modification work on the company's 747 was expected to be completed in 2016, to be followed by orbital test launches of the rocket in 2017. [14], By 2012, several commercial customers had signed early contracts for launches signaling demand-side support for new small commercial-oriented launch vehicles. 40,000 feet (12,000 m) is only about 4% of a low earth orbital altitude, and the subsonic aircraft reaches only about 3% of orbital velocity, yet by delivering the launch vehicle to this speed and altitude, the reusable aircraft replaces a costly first-stage booster. As with dual launches, the HAPS cuts into the fixed volume available for payload. The extra diameter of the high-altitude nozzle would be difficult to gimbal. [7], In October 2019, the company announced plans to develop a three-stage variant that would be capable of launching 100 kg to the Moon, 70 kg to Venus, or 50 kg to Mars.[5]. As of 2015, NewtonThree was to be a 260–335 kilonewtons (58,000–75,000 lbf)-thrust engine, and began hot-fire testing by March 2015. Virgin Orbit integrate payloads at their headquarters in Long Beach, California. The aircraft will then release the rocket (at an unannounced height), the rocket will orient itself and then launch its engines sending it into orbit. Launch at altitude allows a larger, more efficient, yet cheaper first-stage nozzle. It may be partially marketing, like all Virgin activities, but behind it is a really serious company. The travel range of the aircraft allows launches at the equator, which increases performance and is a requirement for some mission orbits. Pegasus has flown 44 missions between 1990 and 2019.[10]. The first two stages are from a Minuteman II; the upper stages are Orion 50XL and 38. It was originally intended that the first stage will be powered by a scaled-up design of the same basic technology as NewtonOne, called NewtonTwo, with 211 kilonewtons (47,500 lbf) of thrust. [16] The ground-launched Taurus rocket places the Pegasus stages and a larger fairing atop a Castor 120 first stage, derived from the first stage of the MX Peacekeeper missile. LauncherOne is a two-stage air-launched vehicle using two Virgin-designed and built Newton RP-1 / LOX liquid rocket engines. Northrop does not plan on retiring the Pegasus XL rocket as of October 2019.[14]. The initial launch price offered was US$6 million, without options or a HAPS (Hydrazine Auxiliary Propulsion System) maneuvering stage.

Its expansion ratio can be designed for low ambient air pressures, without risking flow separation and flight instability during low-altitude flight. Virgin's LauncherOne service would not be the first commercial air-to-orbit rocket system: already operational is the Orbital Pegasus, an air-to-orbit … The wing and fins' structures were designed by Burt Rutan and his company, Scaled Composites, which manufactured them for Orbital.

[20], News reports in September 2015 indicated that the heavier payload of 200 kg was to be achieved by longer fuel tanks and use of the recently qualified NewtonThree engine, but this also meant that the Virgin-developed carrier aircraft White Knight Two would no longer be able to lift the rocket to launch altitude, so in December 2015, Virgin announced a change to the carrier plane for LauncherOne to carry the heavier payload.

DARPA purchased the first flight and options for five more, but only exercised the first of the five options. Virgin had already announced in September that it would offer launches of 200kg to a sun-synchronous orbit for less than $10 million, with options to launch as much as 400kg.

[28], In September 2017, the first test flights of LauncherOne were delayed to 2018. [22][23][24] It was further announced in December 2015 that the revised LauncherOne would utilize the larger NewtonThree rocket engine on the booster stage, with the NewtonFour powering the second stage. A fourth stage is sometimes added for a higher altitude, finer altitude accuracy, or more complex maneuvers.