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Virgin Galactic to open Long Beach plant

Virgin Galactic plans to manufacture satellite launchers in Long Beach

After losing thousands of aerospace jobs in recent years, Long Beach received good news Thursday when Virgin Galactic announced that it would build its new satellite-launching rocket in the city.

The space tourism company founded by British billionaire Richard Branson said it was opening a facility next to the Long Beach Airport that would eventually employ 100 engineers and other employees.

Those employees would design and build what Virgin Galactic calls Launcher-

One, a new space vehicle that would send small satellites into orbit.

The company's new facility is not far from the C-17 cargo plane factory that Boeing Co. plans to close later this year.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia commended the Virgin Galactic company executives who made the announcement.

"They are bringing excellent jobs we need for the talented and hardworking aerospace professionals who already call Long Beach home," he said.

Virgin Galactic already has about 50 employees working on LauncherOne in Mojave, the desert community about 100 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles.

The company plans to immediately move those employees to Long Beach and also hire more.

The company currently has dozens of job openings, mostly for engineers.

It plans to hold a job fair at the 150,000-square-foot facility on East Conant Street on March 7.

Both Branson and entrepreneur Elon Musk have recently separately announced big investments in small satellites.

Musk said last month that his rocket company, SpaceX, was opening an office in Seattle, where engineers would design small satellites.

Similarly, Branson said last month that he was investing in a venture called OneWeb, which, like

SpaceX, plans a constellation of small satellites that would provide low-cost global Internet service.

Plans call for Launcher-

One to lift some of OneWeb's satellites into orbit.

At the Long Beach facility, Virgin Galactic will continue the design of the satellite-launching rocket.

It will operate in a similar way to its experimental SpaceShipTwo, which would carry tourists to orbit.

Like SpaceShipTwo, the satellite launcher would be carried to a 45,000-foot altitude by the company's larger aircraft WhiteKnight-

Two. From there, Launcher-

One would fire its rocket engines and blast into space with the satellite.

Virgin Galactic says that LauncherOne will reduce the cost of launching small satellites to among "the lowest in the nation or perhaps the world."

"The technical progress our team has made designing and testing Launcher-

One has enabled a move [from Mojave] into a dedicated facility to produce the rocket at quantity," said George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic's chief executive.

In Mojave, Virgin Galactic and its subsidiary, The SpaceShip Co., will continue construction on a replacement SpaceShip-

Two.

On Oct. 31, the company's first SpaceShipTwo broke apart on a test flight over the high desert, killing one of two pilots. A federal investigation into the cause of the crash is continuing.

The crash was a major setback for Branson's plan to take wealthy tourists to space.

Melody.petersen@latimes.com

@melodypetersen

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