For Sale: The World’s Largest Airplane*

Stratolaunch takes off. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

As we previously reported, Stratolaunch is up for sale. Paul Allen’s sister Jody Allen, the executor of her brother’s estate, has no interest in continuing the development of the giant airplane, which is designed to air launch rockets.

CNBC reports on the eye popping price tag:

Holding company Vulcan is seeking to sell Stratolaunch for $400 million, people familiar with the matter told CNBC. Vulcan is the investment conglomerate of late billionaire Paul Allen, a Microsoft co-founder. Allen died last October following complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The hefty price tag includes ownership of the airplane as well as the intellectual property and facilities.

Stratolaunch is the world’s largest airplane by wingspan, which stretches 385 feet — longer than an American football field. The plane is powered by six jet engines salvaged from Boeing 747 aircraft.

Allen’s vision of a massive plane that can launch rockets from the air was at least partially fulfilled in April, when Stratolaunch flew for the first time after about eight years in development. Based at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, the giant airplane flew for more than two hours before landing after what was deemed a successful first flight.

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Virgin Orbit Loses 35 OneWeb Launches, Sues Over Termination Fee

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 performs its first captive carry of LauncherOne. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

When the contract was announced in June 2015, it seemed like a blockbuster deal:  satellite Internet provider OneWeb had placed an order for 39 launches with options for 100 more for Virgin Galactic’s (now Virgin Orbit’s) LauncherOne.

What made the order extraordinary was not just the large number of launches, but the fact that the rocket really didn’t even exist yet. (The fact that Richard Branson’s Virgin Group was an investor in OneWeb probably helped.)

Four years later, the blockbuster deal is a bust. According to a lawsuit filed this week by Virgin Orbit, OneWeb last year canceled 35 of the 39 planned launches., slicing most of the value from the $234 million deal.

SpaceNews reports that Virgin Orbit orbit is suing for $46.32 million it claims OneWeb owes it from a $70 million contract termination fee.

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Virgin Orbit to Launch Satellites from Cornwall in England

Cosmic Girl performs first captive carry with LauncherOne. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

CORNWALL, United Kingdom (Virgin Orbit PR) — For a while now, we’ve been working with our friends in Cornwall on the prospect of using LauncherOne to bring launch back to Britain. Today, that project took a massive step forward, as the U.K. Space Agency announced it aims to invest £7.8m (~$10 million) into the development of Spaceport Cornwall as a key operating hub for horizontal launch system, working towards a first launch from British soil in the early 2020’s.

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Virgin Orbit, ANA Partner to Launch Small Satellites From Japan

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 performs its first captive carry of LauncherOne. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

TOKYO and LONG BEACH, Calif., 6 June 2019 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit, Sir Richard Branson’s small satellite launch company, announced today that it has signed an agreement with ANA Holdings (hereinafter “ANA HD”), parent company of All Nippon Airways (ANA), Japan’s largest airline, to bring the company’s LauncherOne service to Japan.

Subject to U.S. Government regulatory approvals, Virgin Orbit’s unique and responsive system — which uses a 747 widebody jet as a “flying launch pad” for its rocket — will complement existing Japanese ground launch vehicles, enabling near-term access to space by the private sector, helping to grow the country’s burgeoning small satellite ecosystem, and helping to elevate Japan as the premier space transport hub in Asia.

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Government Backs Ambitious Plans for UK in Space

  • Up to £20m could be made available from national and local government, subject to business case, for Spaceport Cornwall and Virgin Orbit as part of the Industrial Strategy spaceflight programme – LaunchUK
  • UK Space Agency to work with the United States to enhance space weather forecasting, with £7 million for UCL scientists to build key instruments
  • National Space Council to be established as part of upgrade to UK space strategy and governance.

LONDON (UKSA PR) — UK will play a leading role in the new space age, with new support for domestic satellite launch capability, space weather forecasting, and a National Space Council.

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NASA and Virgin Orbit 3D Print, Test Rocket Combustion Chamber

Engineers test-fire a 3D-printed rocket engine combustion chamber at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. NASA is partnering with Virgin Orbit of Long Beach, California, to deliver advanced engine hardware that employs cutting-edge NASA and commercial additive manufacturing, or 3D-printing, processes. Researchers will continue to explore advanced 3D-printing solutions, introducing even higher-performing alloys and further refining the printing process. (Credits: NASA/Virgin Orbit)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (NASA PR) — At the heart of future rocket engines lifting off to the Moon or Mars could be a 3D printed combustion chamber. Multiple NASA centers partnered with Virgin Orbit to develop and test a uniquely manufactured rocket part.

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Virgin Orbit and EXOLAUNCH Sign Agreement to Deliver Small Satellites to LEO

Cosmic Girl performs first captive carry with LauncherOne. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (EXOLAUNCH PR) – April 11, 2019. EXOLAUNCH, a leading Germany-based launch services provider and cluster integrator for small satellites, and Virgin Orbit, a California-based launch vehicle provider for small satellites, today announced the signing of an MOU for transporting EXOLAUNCH customers’ payloads on dedicated and rideshare missions with Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne as early as 2020.

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Virgin Orbit Adds Guam as Launch Site

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 performs its first captive carry of LauncherOne. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

LONG BEACH, Calif., 10 April 2019 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Virgin Orbit, Sir Richard Branson’s small satellite launch company, announced today that the Pacific island of Guam will become an additional launch site for the company’s LauncherOne service. With its remote location and close proximity to the equator, Guam serves as an excellent base of operations from which the company’s unique, 747-launched rocket can efficiently serve all inclinations, a boon to the rapidly expanding small satellite market. Most excitingly, the new location enables LauncherOne to deliver more than 450 kg to a 500 km equatorial orbit.

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Virgin Orbit, Vector and Mystery Stealth Company Qualify for DARPA Launch Challenge

Credit: DARPA

ARLINGTON, Va. (DARPA PR) — The DARPA Launch Challenge aims to fundamentally shift military space capabilities to enable on-demand, flexible, and responsive launch of small payloads. Three competitors successfully completed the qualification phase and will attempt to launch to low-Earth orbit from two different U.S. locations within a matter of weeks. Teams will receive notice of the first launch site a few weeks prior to launch and exact details on the payload and intended orbit just days before launch. DARPA is targeting both launches for early 2020.

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Relativity Granted Industry-First Machine Learning 3D Metal Printing Patent, Adds Execs from SpaceX & Virgin Orbit

LOS ANGELES–(Relativity PR)–Relativity, the world’s first autonomous rocket factory and launch services leader, today announced the appointment of three aerospace veterans to its executive team and an industry-leading new patent grant for its autonomous 3D printing technology. The fast-growing company has now hired twelve former senior leaders from SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Orbit, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Waymo, Zoox, and Tesla, and has secured a key patent for 3D printing metal using machine learning.

Tim Buzza, recognized as one of the world’s foremost experts in rocket development, as well as among the first leaders and a twelve-year executive at SpaceX, and former Co-President and Vice President of Launch at Virgin Orbit, officially joins Relativity as Distinguished Engineer after serving as an Advisor to the company.

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Saudi Astronaut Appointed to Head Kingdom’s New Space Agency

Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (Credit: NASA)

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has appointed his nation’s first – and thus far, only – astronaut to head up a newly created national space agency.

Prince Sultan bin Salman, who flew into orbit aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1985, was appointed to the position. Salam, 62, is one of the king’s second son.

As a payload specialist aboard the flight, Salam helped to deploy the ARABSAT-1B satellite from the shuttle’s cargo bay for the Arab Satellite Communications Organization (ARABSAT). His flight marked the first time an Arab, a Muslim and a member of a royal family traveled to space.

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