Stratolaunch Formalizes Orbital Sciences Partnership

The new design of Stratolaunch's carrier aircraft. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)
The new design of Stratolaunch’s carrier aircraft. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)

HUNTSVILLE, ALA., June 3, 2013 (Stratolaunch PR) – 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.”


Founded in 2011 by philanthropist and entrepreneur Paul G. Allen, Stratolaunch Systems 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. The system will allow for maximum operational flexibility and payload delivery from several possible operational sites, while minimizing mission constraints such as range availability and weather. The system is made up of three primary elements: a carrier aircraft, which is being designed by Scaled Composites; a multi-stage rocket system, which is being developed by Orbital Sciences; and an orbital payload. Initial efforts will focus on unmanned payloads, with human flights following as safety, reliability, and operability are demonstrated. Stratolaunch is based in Huntsville, Alabama with assembly facilities in Mojave, California.