Stratolaunch Dumps Orbital ATK Rocket as Aircraft Encounters Problems

Stratolaunch carrier aircraft under construction in Mojave, Calif. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)
Stratolaunch carrier aircraft under construction in Mojave, Calif. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)

Stratolaunch Systems has quietly dumped Orbital ATK’s rocket from its air-launch system:

As recently as last fall, Beames spoke about a plan to put a human-crewed spacecraft developed by Sierra Nevada on the tip of the Orbital booster rocket.

But now that human spaceflight plan is shelved, along with Orbital’s planned rocket.

Beames said Orbital’s rocket “was not hitting the economic sweet spot to generate revenue,” so Vulcan has reopened the design plan and is “evaluating over 70 different launch vehicle variants.”

This shift won’t affect the timetable for flying the carrier plane, he said, but it could mean “maybe a little delay” in the plans to use it to launch spacecraft into orbit.

Launching a manned spacecraft will be even further out, “in 10 years,” he said.

The change is reflected in the Stratolaunch website, which is now under construction and contains a single page with a photo of the carrier aircraft under construction in the conmpany’s Mojave hangar.

Meanwhile, reports out of Mojave indicate that building a twin fuselage aircraft with 385-foot wing span is turning out to be a lot more difficult than engineers thought. Word is they’re experiencing all sorts of problems.

Credit: Douglas Messier
Credit: Douglas Messier

Thinking big is not a problem. Building big is. They could end up regretting this boast.