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.