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Private space travel company Virgin Galactic proudly showed off the test-firing of its latest rocket engine, NewtonThree, in a video captured on Sept. 25 at its Mojave, California, facility. The engine is meant to be the main stage for LauncherOne, a platform for sending small satellites into orbit, putting it in competition with the likes of SpaceX's larger Falcon 9.
The LauncherOne project is related to but separate from Virgin's manned spaceflight program, which suffered a major setback earlier this year with the lethal breakup of the SpaceShipTwo rocket plane during a test flight. The company learned a lot from this tragic accident, and is continuing development in a more circumspect manner.
NewtonThree is a liquid rocket engine, a simpler affair than the hybrid rocket that powered SpaceShipTwo before it was destroyed (the breakup was due to several errors, but not in the engine, as some suspected). It produces 73,500 pounds of thrust. During an actual launch it would be followed by a longer, less forceful burn from the smaller NewtonFour engine, which produces 5,000 pounds of thrust. It would be used for putting smaller payloads like commercial satellites in orbit — but nothing heavy like a cargo capsule for the International Space Station.
There's no hard schedule for the in-air debut of LauncherOne — and despite fierce competition among private spaceflight companies, rocket science is not a thing to be rushed.
Editor's Note: NBCUniversal has established a multi-platform partnership with Virgin Galactic to track the development of SpaceShipTwo.