Virgin Galactic's has a new spaceship: LauncherOne. It's a new air-launched rocket designed to put small satellites into orbit. LauncherOne is a cheap way for universities and private companies to get their own devices orbiting Earth:
Cheap and affordable are relative terms here, as it it will cost around $10 million to get a little Sputnik up into action. So no, you won't be launching a satellite, but universities blow their nose in 10 million dollar grants all the time. According to Virgin, LauncherOne would be carried up into the atmosphere by WhiteKnightTwo with a a 500 pound satellite inside. Once outside of the Earth's atmosphere, LauncherOne would shed its missile-like shell, and a proper satellite would expand out, collecting and transmitting any and all data thrown at it.
While this system will not put huge satellites into orbit, it opens the market for private research and communication satellites since no rockets are required and the plane can take off from anywhere. In fact, four companies have already put down payments for future launches using Virgin Galactic's rocket (mostly imaging companies for now). LauncherOne is now in the testing phase, and could be operational as early as 2016. I can't wait to see it in action. [Virgin Galactic]