Stratolaunch’s New Launch Payload: A Vehicle the Size of the Space Shuttle

Straolaunch aircraft on the Mojave runway. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

The Washington Post has a story about Stratolaunch that contains this interesting piece of news from backer Paul Allen and CEO Jean Floyd.

But Allen has even bigger ambitions for Stratolaunch and is considering pairing it with a new space shuttle that’s known inside the company as Black Ice….

“I would love to see us have a full reusable system and have weekly, if not more often, airport-style, repeatable operations going,” Allen said in an interview in his Seattle office.


Some Awesome Stratolaunch Pictures From Taxi Tests in Mojave

Stratolaunch on the runway preparing for taxi tests. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems Corp.)

On Saturday, February 24 and Sunday, February 25 the Stratolaunch team performed taxi tests building on the first taxi test in December. The aircraft reached a top taxi speed of 40 knots (46 mph).

Credit: Stratolaunch Systems Corp.

The tests were conducted at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

Credit: Stratolaunch Systems Corp.

The aircraft has a wing span of 385 feet (117 meters).

Credit: Stratolaunch Systems Corp.

The airplane will be used to air launch rockets.

Credit: Stratolaunch Systems Corp.

The aircraft was built by Scaled Composites as part of a program being funded by Microsoft Co-founder Paul Allen.

Video of Stratolaunch Taxi Tests in Mojave

Video Caption: The aircraft development team performed regression testing at the Mojave Air & Space Port on February 24-25, 2018. Ground speeds ranged from 10-40 knots during the test series.

Greetings From Mojave: Stratolaunch in the Wild, TSC Rebrands

Stratolaunch on the runway. (Credit: Scaled Composites)

Greetings from Ice Station Mojave!

We’re in the midst of what they call a polar vortex, so this week has been particularly cold. Today I believe it reached a high of only 43 F (6 C) and tonight we’re looking at a low of 23 F (-5 C) overnight. The winds were blowing off the mountains at 33 mph (53 kph) and gusting this morning and continued throughout the day.

Up until a couple of weeks ago, the winter had been rather dry and mild, especially compared with the cold, wet one we had last year. But, Old Man Winter has returned with an icy fury.

Despite the weather, Ken Brown and I ventured over to the spaceport to see the Stratolaunch aircraft parked outside its hangar with a fuel truck parked next to it. It’s quite a jaw-dropping sight to see outside in the wild, positively Spruce Goosian in its size and ambition (and, hopefully not, in its flight history). It ain’t nicknamed Birdzilla for nothing.

There are NOTAMS (Notice to Airmen) posted for Saturday and Sunday that indicate the tower will be open (unusual for the weekend) and Runway 12/30 is closed (ditto). So, I’m expecting Stratolaunch will be out on the runway doing some additional taxi tests. I’m guessing it’s too early for a flight by the Paul Allen-funded aircraft.

Driving past Virgin Galactic’s FAITH hangar on the way back from viewing Stratoluanch, I noticed a Spaceship Company logo on the building that I had not seen before.

Word is TSC is going thru a re-branding to separate it from Virgin Galactic. Richard Branson has been talking up supersonic passenger planes that he wants to build.

The Virgin Group has a memorandum of understanding with the government of Saudi Arabia for $1 billion investment in The Spaceship Company, Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit.

So, I imagine we’ll soon be seeing some new public relations materials from Virgin in the form of a video, press release, and so on announcing the re-branding.

Fast Company Selects Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Space

Fast Company has released its annual list of the most innovative companies for 2018. The 10 top innovators in the space industry are shown above.

I’m a bit surprised by Stratolaunch landing at no. 10. The aircraft is impressive; I’ve seen it in person outside, and it’s positively Spruce Goosian in its size and ambition. And I’ve been on tarmacs walking around a 747 and an A380, which are also very large airplanes.

That being said, the reality is that the only rocket it available to launch is a Pegasus, whose primary launch aircraft is Orbital ATK’s 44-year old L-1011 that’s parked just down the flight line from the Stratolaunch hangar. They’re working on developing a larger booster for the giant aircraft, so maybe Stratolaunch will be as innovative as Fast Company believes it is at some point. Never say never.

It just seems that Burt Rutan got focused on building the coolest flying vehicle he could while the whole issue of the rocket was not as well thought through. A similar thing happened with SpaceShipTwo, contributing to years of delay.

The other thing is I heard last fall is the Stratolaunch aircraft might not fly until sometime well into next year. So, it could be a while before we see how well that thing actually performs in flight.

A Look Back at the Space Year That Was

Total solar eclipse photographed from NASA Armstrong’s Gulfstream III. (Credit: (NASA/Carla Thomas)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

I realize it’s a bit late, but here’s a look back at the major developments in space in 2017.

I know that I’m probably forgetting something, or several somethings or someones. Fortunately, I have eagle-eyed readers who really seem to enjoy telling me just how much I’ve screwed up. Some of them a little too much….

So, have at it!  Do your worst, eagle-eyed readers!


Scaled Composites Taxis Stratolaunch

Stratolaunch on the runway. (Credit: Scaled Composites)

MOJAVE, Calif. (Scaled Composites PR) — This past weekend, the Scaled test team successfully executed a low speed taxi test of the Stratolaunch aircraft. During this initial taxi test, the aircraft moved down the runway under its own power for the first time. These first test points have demonstrated the fundamental ability to control the aircraft speed and direction on the runway.


Stratolaunch to Test Rocket Engine Technology at NASA Stennis

Stratolaunch carrier aircraft (Credit: Dylan Schwartz)

Stratolaunch will test rocket engine technology next year at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi under agreements with the space agency.

Paul Allen’s company signed two agreements with NASA: an umbrella Space Act Agreement laying out the terms of cooperation, and an annex under with Stratolaunch will pay $5.1 million to the space agency to use the E1 facility at Stennis for engine tests.


Pence’s Visit to Mojave in Pictures

Vice President Mike Pence in the cockpit of Stratolaunch aircraft. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen visited Stratolaunch and Virgin Galactic during his trip to Mojave on Tuesday.

Vice President Mike Pence poses with Rep. Kevin McCarthy and others in the Stratolaunch hangar. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

The vice president received briefings on Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit during his visit.

Kelly Latimer with Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to Virgin Galactic’s FAITH facility. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

It was Pence’s first visit to the Mojave Air and Space Port.

CJ Sturckow with Mike and Karen Pence in the SpaceShipTwo flight simulator. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
Vice President Pence and his wife Karen look inside of a SpaceShipTwo under construction. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Stratolaunch Complete First Phase of Aircraft Engine Testing

Stratolaunch carrier aircraft (Credit: Dylan Schwartz)

MOJAVE, Calif. (Stratolaunch PR) — Stratolaunch Aircraft Hits Another Milestone with Completion of First Phase of Engine Testing

The Stratolaunch team is proud to announce that our aircraft is one step closer to providing convenient, reliable, and routine access to low Earth orbit.


U.S. Air Force Secretary Visits Mojave, Tours Stratolaunch

If Stratolaunch only had a rocket worthy of the ginormous carrier aircraft they built. No offense to Orbital ATK and the Pegasus XL, but that’s not what this thing was built for. Maybe they will develop one eventually.

Mojave: The Once and Future Spaceport

Sunset from the Mojave Air and Space Port on Oct. 30, 2014. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

At some point in the next six months, the Mojave Air and Space Port could experience something that not happened here in 13 long years: an actual spaceflight.

Richard Branson is predicting that Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity could reach space on a flight test from Mojave by December. For once, his prediction does not appear to be based on unrealistic hopes, the need to reassure customers about delays, or a complete misunderstanding of what is happening on the ground here.

In other words, it’s actually plausible. Whether it will happen on that schedule…that’s another question. Flight test is notoriously unpredictable and very tough on timetables.


Stratolaunch Names SpaceX Vet as Vice President of Propulsion

Jeff Thornburg

SEATTLE (Stratolaunch PR) — At Stratolaunch Systems Corp., we galvanize and enable smart people to tackle challenges head-on. I have named Jeff Thornburg as Stratolaunch’s new Vice President of Propulsion. Jeff joined Stratolaunch on May 22. I look forward to working with Jeff to explore new approaches to making access to space more convenient, reliable, and routine.

Jeff is an outstanding engineer and leader who brings a wealth of valuable experience to the team. Prior to joining Stratolaunch, Jeff was founder and President of Interstellar Technologies LLC, an engineering technology development and consulting company focused on technology development, advanced R&D, manufacturing, testing, production and operations for spacecraft, launch vehicles, and propulsion systems.


Mojave Journal: Good Rockets are Hard to Find

Stratolaunch carrier aircraft rolled out of its hangar for the first time. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Checking my messages on Wednesday at LAX after a long flight from back east, I was startled to learn that Paul Allen’s ginormous Stratolaunch aircraft had been rolled out of its hangar for the first time in Mojave while I was in transit.

I had been expecting some official roll-out ceremony later this year ala SpaceShipTwo where the press and public could get a good look at the twin fuselage, WhiteKnightTwo-on-steroids air-launch platform.