Stratolaunch: How Very Soon is Now?

It’s been a while since we last checked in with Mojave’s largest — and most media shy — space project, Stratolaunch (whose carrier aircraft has been dubbed Carbon Goose, Composite Goose and — for no discernible reason — Birdzilla).

Some of you may recall there was a burst of publicity about the project back in June. A group of journalists were allowed into the project’s giant hangar to view the world’s largest airplane, then 76 percent complete. The circle of invitees appeared rather small, limited to those who had not (ahem) impertinently nicknamed the aircraft Birdzilla.

About a week later, Chuck Beames gave a talk about Stratolaunch at the Space Frontier Foundation’s NewSpace Conference in Seattle. Beames said all the right things — program on track, everything going well, can’t wait to fly, etc.

Unfortunately, his talk sounded a lot like the one he had given at the same conference the previous July in San Jose. In 2015, he said the company was due to announce what rocket(s) the aircraft would air launch in the fall. That time came and it went. In Seattle, he promised announcements “very soon.” In fact, he had hoped to announce them at the conference.

Three months later, construction on the mammoth carrier aircraft continues on Riccomini Street with no announcement of what rocket(s) the airplane will air launch. Clearly, the definition of “soon” is a rather elastic one in the space industry.

After going through SpaceX and Orbital ATK, the company talked to anyone and everyone with a rocket engine or an idea for one. They must have hit pay dirt with someone. Otherwise, the giant aircraft will likely share the fate of its nicknamesake, Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose, which flew once before becoming a museum piece.

  • windbourne

    Perhaps they have figured out they need to make their own.

  • Geoff T

    Holding out for a boom in the outsize airfreight market so they can market a pivot without appearing to be a failure? Or maybe Paul Allen just wants his big plane, purpose be damned!

  • JamesG

    Wasn’t “Birdzilla” the nickname that company employees gave the aircraft but that management decided wasn’t epic enough?

  • Douglas Messier

    No. It was my name for it.

  • JamesG

    You bad bad man. LOL

  • windbourne

    Actually, I think it fits.

  • JamesG

    Its not pretentious enough to attract billionaires with money to waste.

  • Doug, wouldn’t Mothra or Rodan have been a more appropriate name than Birdzilla? Do you really want to sully the good name of the Protector of Japan, when other giant winged beast would be much more appropriate?

  • Douglas Messier

    Neither of those are the least bit funny.

  • ThomasLMatula

    A good near term prospect would be the surplus Peace Keepers in storage. A little “lobbying” with Congress could probably get them released for commercial use. There are also many old Minuteman that would work as well.

  • Smokey_the_Bear

    It’s gotta be getting close to 100% done, I’m really looking forward to the unveiling, she’s a BEAST.

  • publiusr

    Agreed.