More Details on Dream Chaser – Stratolaunch Launch Concept

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

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Mark Sirangelo Craig Gravelle joined Chuck Beames of Vulcan Aerospace this morning at the International Aeronautical Conference in Toronto to discuss a plan to launch s downsized Dream Chaser via Stratolaunch Systems. (Vulcan Aerospace is owned by Paul Allen, who is financing Stratolaunch).

Jeff Foust (‏@jeff_foust) and Stephen Clark (@StephenClark1) attended the talk. Here is a summary of their Tweets.

  • Dream Chaser variant is about the size of the Apollo spacecraft
  • Vehicle could carry 2-3 astronauts into LEO for visits to the International Space Station and other missions
  • Dream Chaser can be automated to carry cargo
  • No decision has been made to proceed with the plan, still weighing how to move forward
  • SNC not prepared to discuss propulsion systems for Dream Chaser
  • Considered using Stratolaunch to send Drream Chaser on suborbital flights, including point-to-point missions
  • Stratolaunch carrier aircraft now half built at Mojave Air and Spaceport
  • Targeting 2018 for first launch of basic Stratolaunch aircraft and launch vehicle.

  • windbourne

    2018. That is a ways out there.

    Also interesting that both fuselages are not identical. I would think that it would be useful to have it so that either side could control it, and would allow for training.

  • Paul451

    I’m curious what’s in the two fuselages. That’s a lot of volume. You don’t need much range (up, launch, back), hence not much fuel, even with all those engines. There’s no cargo (all your lift is needed to carry the launcher). So what’s it for? I can’t really see the point of the design.

  • Kapitalist

    Stuff like this is only meant to be for our entertainment. Some people don’t need to work for a living and instead just make up scifi like this, for the fun of it. Of course that thingy or anything like it will never exist in reality. “What’s in the huge fuselages?” is a very good question. I say that there is no more in them than in the brains of those who made up this ridiculous fantasy.

  • MachineAgeChronicle

    I have been saying this from day one. StratoLaunch is not the first to look at this idea. The Soviets did it and found it impractical. This is so far out I’m surprised people even take it seriously.

  • MachineAgeChronicle

    They need lift to get everything airborne. Lift = wings (big ones). The original idea was to mate two surplus 747s and I suspect they just kept drawing an aircraft of the same size. Anyway, this is vapor ware and will never fly.

  • MachineAgeChronicle

    Dual systems are expensive. Both construction-wise and in maintenance.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “I would think that it would be useful to have it so that either side could control it, and would allow for training.”
    What?

  • therealdmt

    “SNC not prepared to discuss propulsion systems for Dream Chaser”

    – this is entirely fine as this vehicle combination, if it ever flys (”No decision has been made to proceed with the plan”, for starters), is still a number of years down the road. But it underscores to me how NASA, at least parts of which were rooting for DreamChaser, couldn’t really justify giving SNC one of only 2 available contracts.

    Of course this scaled down version is a new vehicle and scaling down could affect the engine choice, but with the recent change of plans for propulsion of the full-size DreamChaser and with what may be still evolving LAS plans, it doesn’t seem like they were in good position to be ready to serve as a commercial crew provider for assured access to the ISS by the end of 2017.

    Just sayin’…

  • Tonya

    I think that’s a references to White Knight II. The second cockpit is a SpaceShip 2 replica. However, that was intended for training the passengers, not the crew.

  • Tonya

    Rocket fuel. Or rather that’s what the space is now reserved for.

    Although Pegasus II is a solid with only a small liquid upper stage, Stratolaunch is designed to support an all liquid rocket. The combination would take off with the rocket empty and then the fuel is transferred in flight.

  • therealdmt

    A mini-DreamChaser mounted on the end of a horizontal 3 stage solid rocket slung under a giant, two-bodied, six-engined jet airplane…, well, that would be quite a sight to see!

    Very cool idea, if a bit Rube Goldbergian 😀

  • Tonya

    As the mid-atlantic commenter, I’ll translate Rube Goldbergian as Heath Robinson.

    Although personally, I find it all a little Gerry Anderson!

  • windbourne

    Ah.
    Yup.

  • windbourne

    Why? Because the soviets could not do it in the 70s?

  • Hug Doug

    it’s not vaporware. Space News says it’s already 50% complete.

    http://www.spacenews.com/article/launch-report/42060sierra-nevada-and-stratolaunch-systems-studying-human-launch-system

    i think the wing and fuselage attatchment assemblies have already been built. last i heard they were undergoing testing, but that’s probably complete by now. i wouldn’t be surprised if they are already working on the fuselages. first test flights are set for mid-2016.

  • Hug Doug

    Space News says it’s already 50% complete.

    http://www.spacenews.com/article/launch-report/42060sierra-nevada-and-stratolaunch-systems-studying-human-launch-system

    i think the wing and fuselage attachment assemblies have already been built. last i heard they were undergoing testing, but that’s probably complete by now. i wouldn’t be surprised if they are already working on the fuselages. first test flights are set for mid-2016.

  • Vladislaw

    sat launcher for the military… i believe that is what it’s role will end up.

  • MachineAgeChronicle

    Let’s wait and see. They released the new design concept in June 2013. They might be 50% done with the drawings and jigging, but they did not build half an aircraft in 1 year.

  • Hug Doug
  • MachineAgeChronicle

    No, because it’s impractical. The maintenance cost alone will be astronomical. Rather than one craft (the rocket), they have two machines to operate. It’s also unlikely they will get permission to fly that contraption in and out of many airports (carrying a fully loaded rocket). The technology is pretty sound, but the business case is beyond flimsy. In particular with many other launch providers appearing on the circuit.

  • Hug Doug

    the NSF article says they are probably going to operate out of the Shuttle landing strip at Canaveral, since that runway is already rated to handle the weight of the Stratolaunch.

  • Tonya

    I don’t see why the Stratolaunch would be astronomically expensive to maintain. It’s a custom airframe, but all of the subsystems are derived from the 747-400. As airlines are moving away from the 747 for less thirsty planes, the component prices have been plummeting.

    It has a high capital cost, but the operating cost may be little more than what you might expect from two 747s stuck together, double that of a 747.

  • Paul451

    Ah. And hence tanks, pumps and plumbing. And all the associated safety systems. Yes, thank you, that makes much more sense.

  • ReusablesForever

    As for the two fuselages, they hold the tail surfaces on. To get the stiffness and strength for that, you get a lot of volume. The fuel for the carrier would be for takeoff, flu outbound to the launch point, loiter, launch, and then return to base.

    The all up carrier with payload is designed for the maximum TOGW the airport managers will allow – 1.3 million pounds I guess is what the Mojave airport will allow. From there on out, it’s a weights game to see how much is left over for revenue payload.

    We at [then] Rockwell looked at these kinds of thing back in the early-mid 1980s as did the [then] AFFDL.

  • ReusablesForever

    See my note above. Nothing new under the sun!

  • ReusablesForever

    See my note above. The maximum size is defined by what TOGW the airport will allow for their runways.

  • ReusablesForever

    Exactly. You buy it once and maintain it forever. So, focus on maintainabilty.

  • Paul451

    As for the two fuselages, they hold the tail surfaces on. To get the stiffness and strength for that, you get a lot of volume.

    However, actual twin-tailed aircraft (including jets) never require such massive tail-fuselages, nor do their actual tail booms ever extend below and in front of the wings. It’s added mass and drag for no (apparent, see below) purpose. Hence why I asked.

    The fuel for the carrier would be for takeoff, flu outbound to the launch point, loiter, launch, and then return to base.

    The four engine 747-400, which the original design was based on, could fly 8-15,000km without refuelling, yet did not require more than ordinary wing-tanks and a modest centre tank. So even going to six engines, increased airframe mass and maxing out the take-off mass on every flight, it’s hard to imagine needing such a huge volume as those twin-fuselages merely to reach launch position and return.

    Tonya explained the paradox. The launcher is intended to be unfueled at take-off, the carrier needs to hold the launcher’s fuel and oxidiser.

  • therealdmt

    I’d heard of Heath Robinson, but had no idea who Gerry Anderson was – just looked him up. Wow, what a career! I’ll have to try to check out some of his stuff (the only one I’m familiar with is Space 1999, but I’ve heard Thunderbirds mentioned a lot).

  • Tonya

    He was completely unique and made a much bigger contribution to entertainment than many people realise.

    His TV shows were almost an apprenticeship scheme for the craftsman that worked in the British film industry afterwards.
    Brian Johnson is probably the most well known, as he won Academy Awards for both Alien and Empire Strike Back. Brian and many others from the Thunderbirds effects crew were also employed to make 2001 a decade earlier.

    If you’ve seen Space 1999, almost all the spaceship models were built by one person, who also built the Nostromo. If you watch the landing sequence in Alien, it’s almost all put together by people that did the same thing for Gerry Anderson a few years before.

  • windbourne

    You know, I think that it would be interesting for 2 series that are related that deal with going to the moon and mars at around the same time. First the moon and then mars.
    It would be possible to share between the series, with sets, concepts, actors, etc.
    Done right, it can make use of the start-ups and then allow for future dreaming by the audiences.