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SpaceX Out, Orbital In on Stratolaunch Project

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
November 27, 2012
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Flight Global 
reports that SpaceX has dropped out of Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch program with Orbital Sciences Corporation of Virginia, which files the air-launched Pegasus booster, taking over on the booster segment.

“Stratolaunch and SpaceX have amicably agreed to end our contractual relationship because the current launch vehicle design has departed significantly from the Falcon derivative vehicle envisioned by SpaceX and does not fit well with their long-term strategic business model,” says Gary Wentz, Stratolaunch CEO, in a 27 November email.

“Moving forward, Stratolaunch has engaged Orbital Sciences Corporation to evaluate and develop alternative solutions with the objective of arriving at a design decision in the early spring time frame. The other segment contractors will continue to proceed forward in accordance with existing plans since their interfaces have been defined,” he adds.

Despite the close relations, Stratolaunch’s updated designs required “significant structural mods to incorporate a fin/chine configuration,” according to Wentz. Initial concepts did not include a chine, which is a structural extension of the wing root along the sides of the vehicle, useful for providing lift at high speeds.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk hinted at changes in the Stratolaunch program last week during an appearance in England.

7 responses to “SpaceX Out, Orbital In on Stratolaunch Project”

  1. Pete Zaitcev says:

    They should’ve gone to t/Space instead of Orbital: no wings, use the safer, obviously better way to drop in every respect. Maybe Gary Hudson just asks too much for the patents.

  2. Winglet says:

    Scaled Composites has a long history of working with Orbital Sciences Corp. They did a fair amount of structural analysis and engineering on the original Pegasus rocket from Orbital as well as having manufactured (repeatedly) the tail feather components as well.

    The culture and environments at both companies lead to a mutual compatibility that works well and I think this was a wise choice. Elon has a lot going for him and his company and I applaud every bit of vision he’s brought to spaceflight. However, I never did see how SpaceX was going to meet the vision originally outlined by Burt and Paul.

    The article discusses fins and chines as being one of the core reasons for their separation. This is a bit ridiculous and does not tell the whole story. Stratolaunch’s original animations, before the company was even named, included a rocket with the SpaceX logo on the side being dropped from the mothership with a tail chine on it.

  3. Ken Doyle says:

    Yes, the t/Space / t/Lad launch system was developed in Mojave, working with Scaled Composite’s Proteus aircraft. It worked great. (I helped!) 🙂
    I seriously doubt if Gary Hudson is asking too much; I know he’d love to see his system in operational use. Besides, being able to eliminate the wing and greatly reduce the loads on the rocket, has got to be worth plenty. Here’s an article over at

  4. Gary C Hudson says:

    Pete, AirLaunch LLC offered to help SL. Money wasn’t discussed. They decided they didn’t need help. We said “good luck with that.” We stand to ready to help.

  5. Gary C Hudson says:

    The inventor of the t/LAD concept is Marti Sarigul-Klijn, so it isn’t really fair to say “my” patents. I’m only the guy who administers AirLaunch LLC’s IP.

  6. Anom says:

    As Gary Hudson knows, Scaled Composites built a flight weight LOX/Kerosene booster stage for Rotary Rocket that could hold ~ 200-tons of propellant. Scaled did this for ~ $2.5-Million, and the weight of this vehicle with propellant is around what the StratoLaunch Aircraft can carry.

    This is obviously comparing apples to oranges, but Scaled Composites is probably up to manufacturing a 200-ton LOX/Kerosene booster rocket for StratoLaunch if given the money from Allen, an engine, and help from OSC.

    Virgin Galactic use of LOX/Kerosene for their LauncherOne air-launch orbital vehicle could help StratoLaunch as well. At a minimum, VG could offer help with a pressure fed LOX/Kerosene upper stage if StratoLaunch can not use the pump fed Merlin engines from SpaceX.

  7. Pete Zaitcev says:

    Thanks for Mr. Hudson for speaking about this directly.

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