Stratolaunch to Test Rocket Engine Technology at NASA Stennis

Stratolaunch carrier aircraft (Credit: Dylan Schwartz)

Stratolaunch will test rocket engine technology next year at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi under agreements with the space agency.

Paul Allen’s company signed two agreements with NASA: an umbrella Space Act Agreement laying out the terms of cooperation, and an annex under with Stratolaunch will pay $5.1 million to the space agency to use the E1 facility at Stennis for engine tests.

The schedule calls for Stratolaunch to deliver the test hardware by May 31, 2018, and for NASA to complete design, fabricate and install systems by the end of June. The test series will be complete by Dec. 31, 2018.

The contract is a sign that Stratolaunch is pursuing the development of its own launch vehicle. The company has built a massive aircraft to air launch boosters, but it has experienced difficulty in fielding a medium-sized rocket to use with the airplane.

Stratolaunch successively hired SpaceX and Orbital Sciences (now Orbital ATK) to design boosters, but both of those agreement’s fell through. It now plans to begin launching Orbital ATK’s Pegasus XL booster when flights begin in around 2020.

In May, Stratolaunch named SpaceX and NASA veteran Jeff Thornburg as its new vice president of propulsion.

“I look forward to working with Jeff to explore new approaches to making access to space more convenient, reliable, and routine,” Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd said in a press release at the time.