Environment & Science

Virgin Galactic to make small satellite launch vehicle at Long Beach Airport

File: JetBlue Terminal At Long Beach Airport.
File: JetBlue Terminal At Long Beach Airport.
Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Virgin Galactic has leased a new 150,000-foot facility located at the Long Beach Airport to house and manufacture "LauncherOne," a small satellite launch vehicle, according to a press release by the space company.

Partially owned by Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic aims to make satellite launches into orbit a lot more affordable with the new rocket. 

"If you wanted to launch a satellite to orbit right now and you wanted to buy a rocket here in the United States, really the cheapest rocket you can buy is gonna cost you about $50 million," Virgin Galactic Vice President for Special Projects William Pomerantz told KPCC. "LauncherOne is all about bringing the cost of launching satellites to orbit way, way down."

The small rocket would launch satellites, commercial or government-owned, that weigh less than 500 pounds. According to Pomerantz, several companies including Web satellite company One Web have already come on board for services.  

In the press release, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides says, “The technical progress our team has made designing and testing LauncherOne has enabled a move into a dedicated facility to produce the rocket at quantity." So, they want to make a bunch of them.

The Long Beach Airport was the ideal place for a facility due its large size, access to airplanes — "LauncherOne" would be launched from a plane — and because of  the amount of "talent" in the area, Pomerantz said. 

He noted that the company is having a job fair in March to seek out engineers, technicians and other skilled workers to meet manufacturing needs. According to Pomerantz, the company is looking to fill more than 100 jobs.  He said the company is hoping to launch a rocket into orbit around the end of 2016. 

"Long Beach is a city with a wonderful history in the aviation community. A lot of great airplanes and spacecrafts have been built in that region, so we're excited to be adding a new chapter to that history," Pomerantz said.