Stratolaunch Systems is a private company, backed by Paul Allen, entering the space business via a rocket booster system launched from a carrier aircraft.
‘Stratolaunch Systems, a Paul G. Allen project, is developing an air-launch system that will revolutionize space transportation by providing orbital access to space at lower costs, with greater safety and more flexibility. Delivering payloads in the 10,000lbm class into low earth orbit, the system allows for maximum operational flexibility and payload delivery from several possible operational sites, while minimizing mission constraints such as range availability and weather.
The air-launch system is made up of four primary elements: a launch aircraft, a multi-stage booster, a mating and integration system, and an orbital payload. Initial efforts will focus on unmanned payloads; however, human flights will follow as safety, reliability, and operability are demonstrated.
Stratolaunch Systems has assembled a team of innovative aerospace leaders to build and deliver a commercial air launch system. Scaled Composites will build the launch aircraft; Orbital Sciences will design, assemble, and test the multi-stage booster; Orbital will also provide program management, systems engineering, space launch mission design, system integration and integrated ground support for the Stratolaunch System. Stratolaunch Systems headquarters are in Huntsville, Alabama, and its aircraft hangar is in Mojave, California.
The carrier aircraft, built by Scaled Composites, weighs more than 1.3 million pounds and has a wingspan of over 380 feet – the same length as a football field. Using six 747 engines, the carrier aircraft will be the largest aircraft ever constructed. The air-launch system requires a takeoff and landing runway that is approximately 12,500 feet long. The carrier aircraft can fly over 1,000 nautical miles to reach an optimal launch point.
Orbital’s multi-stage booster leverages the company’s experience with its Pegasus, Taurus and Antares launch vehicle fleet experience. At approximately 120 feet long, the air launch vehicle is designed to boost the payload into low earth orbit. After release of the booster from the aircraft at approximately 30,000 feet, the first stage engines ignite and the spacecraft begins its journey into space. The air launch vehicle’s health and status during flight is monitored from the launch aircraft and on the ground.
Orbital Sciences provides integrated systems engineering including all Airborne Support Equipment (ASE) and Integrated Ground Systems (IGS). The ASE includes the pylon that serves as the mating mechanism between the carrier aircraft and the approximately 500,000 pound air launch vehicle. Furthermore, the ASE includes all necessary environmental control systems, transportation and handling equipment, facilities, software and any other associated systems necessary for launch vehicle functions. The IGS includes the mission operations center, integrated Stratoluanch system level test equipment and any unique Stratolaunch systems necessary to conduct complete launch operations.‘
The latest news is a formal announcement of Stratolaunch Systems partnership with Orbital Sciences.
‘Stratolaunch Systems today announced that space technology leader Orbital Sciences Corporation (NYSE: ORB) will join its team to develop, build and operate the redesigned Stratolaunch air-launch rocket system. Orbital’s involvement is key in realizing Stratolaunch System’s vision to provide orbital access with greater safety, cost-effectiveness and flexibility.
“Selecting Orbital to take on this important role represents a major step forward in our bold endeavor to develop a revolutionary air-launch system,” said Gary L. Wentz, CEO and President of Stratolaunch. “Orbital is one of the most respected and reliable providers of space and rocket systems. For over 30 years, Orbital has compiled a record of success few companies in the industry can match. We’re pleased to welcome Orbital to our team.”
The agreement was finalized after a research period in which Stratolaunch charged Orbital with developing a comprehensive operational concept for its air-launch system, including the unique design of the rocket and operational processes and procedures that will need to be in place to operate the system. Going forward, Orbital will be responsible for the program’s overall systems engineering, as well as the development, production, integration, test, and operations of the air-launch vehicle (ALV) and related support systems.
“Stratolaunch is introducing an innovative solution unlike anything ever before attempted, with convenient, airport-like operations to launch commercial and government payloads, and eventually, human missions,” Wentz added. “With the rocket design and operational methodology well understood, we are now positioned to bring this vision to fruition.”
The Stratolaunch ALV system will be capable of launching government and commercial payloads up to 15,000 lbs. range to low-Earth orbit (LEO) and smaller payloads to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). Due to its air-launch capability, the system is designed for maximum operational flexibility and payload delivery from multiple sites. It also offers the ability to minimize or avoid mission constraints that affect traditional ground-launch operations, such as certain aspects of range availability or inclement weather conditions. Stratolaunch is on track for carrier aircraft flight testing by 2016.
“By selecting Orbital as a key member of its team, Stratolaunch has employed the world’s expert in air-launch systems to orbit, having pioneered the small-class Pegasus rocket over 20 years ago, which, together with derivative air-launch vehicles, have carried out over 50 missions for government and commercial customers,” said Frank Culbertson, Orbital’s Executive Vice President and General Manager
of its Advanced Programs Group. “We have assembled a first-class team of professionals, with decades of experience, and we are ready to support the program as it moves from concept into design and production.”‘
Below is a video of an artist conception of the completed system in action.
H/T NewSpace Journal