Aircraft

Stratolaunch Systems announces "a radical change in the space launch industry"

Stratolaunch Systems announces...
Stratolaunch Systems has announced its planned air-launch-to-orbit system, which will get spacecraft into orbit using the largest aircraft ever flown
Stratolaunch Systems has announced its planned air-launch-to-orbit system, which will get spacecraft into orbit using the largest aircraft ever flown
View 5 Images
The Stratolaunch Systems carrier aircraft and its booster/spacecraft payload
1/5
The Stratolaunch Systems carrier aircraft and its booster/spacecraft payload
Stratolaunch Systems has announced its planned air-launch-to-orbit system, which will get spacecraft into orbit using the largest aircraft ever flown
2/5
Stratolaunch Systems has announced its planned air-launch-to-orbit system, which will get spacecraft into orbit using the largest aircraft ever flown
The Stratolaunch Systems carrier aircraft will be able to travel up to 1,300 nautical miles
3/5
The Stratolaunch Systems carrier aircraft will be able to travel up to 1,300 nautical miles
The Stratolaunch Systems carrier aircraft releasing the booster/spacecraft
4/5
The Stratolaunch Systems carrier aircraft releasing the booster/spacecraft
The Stratolaunch Systems booster, carrying the spacecraft into orbit
5/5
The Stratolaunch Systems booster, carrying the spacecraft into orbit

Seven years ago, philanthropist Paul G. Allen collaborated with aerospace expert Burt Rutan, to create SpaceShipOne - the first privately-funded, manned rocket ship to fly beyond Earth's atmosphere, and winner of the Ansari X PRIZE. Now, in the post-Shuttle era, the two men have reunited to create a reusable vehicle for launching both manned and unmanned rockets into space. The project was announced in Seattle today.

Allen and Rutan's new company, Stratolaunch Systems, will be developing a mobile launch system consisting of three main components.

The first will be an enormous carrier aircraft, made by Rutan's company Scaled Composites. With a wingspan of over 380 feet (116 m), packing six 747 engines and weighing over 1.2 million pounds (544,311 kg), it will be the largest aircraft ever flown.

Mounted underneath the aircraft's SpaceShipOne-like twin bodies will be a multi-stage booster, which in turn will be attached to the spacecraft. Built by Space Exploration Technologies, this 490,000-pound (222,260-kg) booster will fire once it has been released from the aircraft, carrying the spacecraft into orbit.

The third component of the system will be a mating and integration system, which will allow the aircraft to safely carry and release its payload. It will be designed by aerospace engineering firm Dynetics.

The Stratolaunch Systems carrier aircraft and its booster/spacecraft payload
The Stratolaunch Systems carrier aircraft and its booster/spacecraft payload

The aircraft will be constructed in a dedicated Stratolaunch hangar, which will reportedly soon be under construction at the Mojave Air and Space Port. Hopefully, the first flight should be taking place within five years. According to the company, its air-launch-to-orbit system "will mean lower costs, greater safety, and more flexibility and responsiveness than is possible today with ground-based systems." Turnaround time between launches should also be much shorter than is currently possible, allowing for a larger number of launches within a given time period.

Once built, the aircraft will likely operate out of a large airport/spaceport, such as the Kennedy Space Center. It will require a runway at least 12,000 feet (3,658 m) long, and be able to fly to launch points up to 1,300 nautical miles (2,407 km) away.

"I have long dreamed about taking the next big step in private space flight after the success of SpaceShipOne - to offer a flexible, orbital space delivery system," Allen said today. "We are at the dawn of radical change in the space launch industry."

More details are available on the currently heavily-taxed Stratolaunch Systems website, and in the video below.

Stratolaunch Systems, A Paul G. Allen Project

17 comments
Theo Viljoen
This is nothing new... What the video does not show is how the stage boosters are being recovered... will that even be done? If not, just more space junk of which some may drop on our heads!
Wombat56
I\'m not sure how much benefit they get from an aerial launch, but I suppose they could fly their rocket to an equatorial launch position which can help somewhat. For some reason the picture remind me of the Spruce Goose. I hope it turns out more successfully.
Mr Stiffy
yeah if they can launch at say 30K of altitude or more, that is through the thickest part of the atmosphere and 1/3 of the way into orbit, using air breathing engines only. Much smaller rocket, or much bigger load. The bastards have actually stolen my idea....
Mindbreaker
They are going to have to make that wing incredibly strong. Some of the time it has a very heavy rocket and part of the time there is none; that can easily lead to fatigue or bending to the point that the aerodynamics are very different between the two states. As for \"stealing\" the idea, the Pegasus rocket has the same launch scenario...high altitude plane plus rocket that separates and launches into orbit. They have just gone big so the rocket can be manned...hardly original...it is just all the sweat and engineering know-how as well as the actuality of initiating making such a craft that is worth acknowledging.
Otiose
Hmm I\'m not sure I follow this idea. Attaining orbit is about velocity, not about altitude (so much). Quick wikipedia check says for a circular low earth orbit, you need a velocity of 6.9 to 7.8 km/s. This aircraft will only get a fraction of that (by my estimation around 0.2 km/s). Will this really save so much? Normal orbital vehicles usually get through the atmosphere in seconds, with little additional expenditure of fuel as I have it.
Jacob Shepley
people above forget that many rocket launches are delayed due to weather conditions. this is a reusable launch system that can travel to spaces with launchable conditions. They mentioned this yet people above didn\'t read? this system allows for a faster turn around time to the next mission and can be used as a massive transport vehicle when not launching rockets. GO SCIENCE
donwine
If I could choose how that much money was going to be spent - I would prefer that instead of bailing out Wall Street and the banks, put a stop to the bleeding economy and the housing brake down. What kind of message is this sending to struggling tax payers?
joe1946
They could have used only four GE90-115B engine from the 777-300ER instead of the six from the 747.
Myron J. Poltroonian
Finally! \"Space the final frontier\" may be as accessible as your nearest neighborhood watering hole.
Dave C
@Otiose The first 1/3 of the journey to space is the most expensive, requiring you to lift the payload, the hardware, and the fuel to get it there. A tank full of JP5 or other jet fuel is much cheaper, safer, and easier to handle. The turnaround for the transport would be little more than a fill-up and preflight checks, once the payload is attached. They didn\'t mention payload capacity and that will ultimately determine viability of the system. Whether it will be man rated or capable is another question. This could be a great platform for rescue missions, if man capable, or if it could deliver an empty, reentry capable, rescue capsule to a stricken craft. Lots of possibilities here. Best of luck to Mr. Allen and Mr. Rutan et al