Branson is expected to announce Virgin Galactic Cargo, a renewed effort to launch small satellites commercially, and reveal design changes to his tourism spacecraft SpaceShipTwo (SS2) at the U.K.'s Farnborough International Airshow next month.
Virgin Galactic Cargo could see an unmanned rocket, air launched by SS2's carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo (WK2), carry satellites weighing up to 440 pounds (200 kilograms) into low-Earth orbit for a price tag of $1 million to $2 million. This was Virgin Galactic's plan when it announced in July 2009 a small satellite launcher project along with a $280 million investment in the spaceline by Abu Dhabi investment company Aabar. Aabar agreed to invest $110 million in the small satellite launcher project if it was found to be feasible. However, in October 2010, the project, then named LauncherOne, went into a hiatus after Virgin Galactic's one U.K.-based staffer working on it full-time left.
A Farnborough announcement of a renewed effort 22 months later was hinted at by Virgin Galactic's commercial director Stephen Attenborough when he spoke at the Royal Aeronautical Society's thirrd European space tourism conference on June 19. "Virgin Galactic Cargo will follow soon, watch out for some potential announcements there in the not too distant future regarding small satellites," Attenborough said.
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