14 December 2011

Burt Rutan, Elon Musk, and Paul Allen Assemble Giant Stratolaunch

The plane would be capable of flying up to 1,300 nautical miles to reach its launch point. SpaceX would provide a shortened version of its Falcon 9 rocket for the next phase of Stratolaunch's route to orbit. Wentz described it as a "Falcon 4 or 5." The multistage booster would be attached to the plane using a mating and integration system developed by Dynetics, and released during the mothership's flight at high altitude. After release, the 490,000-pound rocket would light up to send commercial and government payloads weighing up to 13,500 pounds into low Earth orbit. _Alan Boyle

Seven years after winning the $10 million Ansari X Prize, software billionaire Paul Allen and aerospace guru Burt Rutan are teaming up with SpaceX and other top-flight rocketeers to create an air-launched orbital delivery system. They say the venture will require the construction of the largest aircraft ever flown.

Allen unveiled his new company, Stratolaunch Systems, at a Seattle news conference today. It marks his first space venture since the partnership with Rutan to build the prize-winning SpaceShipOne rocket plane, which became the first privately developed craft to reach outer space in 2004.

...Allen agreed that his latest venture won't come cheap. He said he'll spend "at least an order of magnitude more than I put into SpaceShipOne." Allen's investment in SpaceShipOne was estimated at $25 to $30 million, which suggests he's prepared to put at least $250 million to $300 million into Stratolaunch. _CosmicLog

This is one of the unconventional types of space launch systems that Al Fin and his friends talked about as young boys. It allows for a wide range of orbital insertions not available to a single ground launch site. And by making a significant part of the launch system completely re-usable, it should help reduce launch costs.

It never made sense that Paul Allen would simply walk away from the private space scene after his successful partnership with Rutan won the space X Prize. The new partnership involving Elon Musk's SpaceX is something of a surprise, however, and a good omen for private space enterprise.
The ship will be built at the Mojave Spaceport, New Mexico, while the rockets will be built by SpaceX in Hawthorne, California. The integration—which includes the mating system—will be built by Dynetics Space Systems in Huntsville, Alabama.

What cargo will it launch?

Initially, they will launch cargo to orbit, but not to the International Space Station. In the future, the system may launch human crews up to six people. At this point, however, they haven't decided to do this yet. _Gizmodo

h/t Next Big Future More here

More: Coverage of the press conference from Hobby Space Be sure to glance through the comments.

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Blogger Matt M said...

So, if I understand correctly, the advantage of the Falcon 9 Air is that it can be launched from different locations and hit different orbits that a ground based launch cannot?

Wednesday, 14 December, 2011  
Blogger al fin said...

Yes, it's more versatile in that way. Here's more on orbital mechanics:


Launching the rocket at higher altitude with initial higher velocity can save on rocket fuel mass, also.

Theoretically, you could design the craft to launch multiple rockets from widely separated locations, to completely different orbits during the same flight.

The launch craft's range can be extended in multiple ways.

You do not have to land on the same field from which you took off.


Wednesday, 14 December, 2011  
Blogger Mark Presco said...

This is absolutely the right approach. They should consider a second stage lifting body vehicle using SCRAM jets, or other technology capable of operating in the upper atmosphere. This would also be recoverable.

Wednesday, 14 December, 2011  
Blogger al fin said...


The upper atmosphere, like the deep ocean and the polar regions, is one of the last terrestrial frontiers.

The military applications for this type of craft are numerous, but I hope it is used more for giving civilian space a boost.

Saturday, 17 December, 2011  

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