Greetings From Mojave: Stratolaunch in the Wild, TSC Rebrands

Stratolaunch on the runway. (Credit: Scaled Composites)

Greetings from Ice Station Mojave!

We’re in the midst of what they call a polar vortex, so this week has been particularly cold. Today I believe it reached a high of only 43 F (6 C) and tonight we’re looking at a low of 23 F (-5 C) overnight. The winds were blowing off the mountains at 33 mph (53 kph) and gusting this morning and continued throughout the day.

Up until a couple of weeks ago, the winter had been rather dry and mild, especially compared with the cold, wet one we had last year. But, Old Man Winter has returned with an icy fury.

Despite the weather, Ken Brown and I ventured over to the spaceport to see the Stratolaunch aircraft parked outside its hangar with a fuel truck parked next to it. It’s quite a jaw-dropping sight to see outside in the wild, positively Spruce Goosian in its size and ambition (and, hopefully not, in its flight history). It ain’t nicknamed Birdzilla for nothing.

There are NOTAMS (Notice to Airmen) posted for Saturday and Sunday that indicate the tower will be open (unusual for the weekend) and Runway 12/30 is closed (ditto). So, I’m expecting Stratolaunch will be out on the runway doing some additional taxi tests. I’m guessing it’s too early for a flight by the Paul Allen-funded aircraft.

Driving past Virgin Galactic’s FAITH hangar on the way back from viewing Stratoluanch, I noticed a Spaceship Company logo on the building that I had not seen before.

Word is TSC is going thru a re-branding to separate it from Virgin Galactic. Richard Branson has been talking up supersonic passenger planes that he wants to build.

The Virgin Group has a memorandum of understanding with the government of Saudi Arabia for $1 billion investment in The Spaceship Company, Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit.

So, I imagine we’ll soon be seeing some new public relations materials from Virgin in the form of a video, press release, and so on announcing the re-branding.

  • SamuelRoman13

    Polar Vortex is where it always is in the Arctic. There was a movie about it, but it was false. Just the Jet Stream and normal winter weather. Your cold, in Fl. we get the opposite. 60-80 since Feb. 1. Nice. I think NWS set the Polar Vortex had moved south once to NY. No perfect storm either. More movie fiction.

  • Jeff2Space

    Step 1 to low cost launch, build a huge, one of a kind, jet powered aircraft which can only operate at a limited number of airfields due to its enormous size? I wish them luck, but I’m not sure the aircraft part of this launch system is going to help reduce launch costs as much as they think it will.

  • Michael Halpern

    Its the rocket efficiency trap, it has potential in small launch, which is niche already so the limited number of airfields isn’t as much of an issue, doesn’t have as much problem with limited corridors and because its moving you might be able to extend launch windows, as well as not have as much issue with wind sheer in the first place, the way I see it, it doesn’t so much reduce launch costs, as it enables them to be more responsive and less susceptible to scrub which could help create demand meaning more production of rockets and lowering cost, reducing launch costs has to be on part of the rocket they are launching from it.

  • Douglas Messier

    Oh, I dunno about that. I’m convinced having lived in Mojave long enough that the Polar Vortex likes going on road trips and torturing us poor folks down here. I don’t care what those meteorologists say.

  • Ignacio Rockwill

    Responsive seems to be the keyword when it comes to small sat launch. On price per kg, none of these dedicated small sat launchers come close to a F9 reusable launch.

  • Michael Halpern

    Nope but they do have low price per launch to keep them relevant, the possible exception is maybe Relativity, but they are very much going to be production limited, so long as they maintain a low price per launch in comparison to RLVs and manage to be responsive, they have a good business case. Its like overnight shipping (via air) for satellites, more expensive and more constrained but less waiting for the package to arrive.

  • Ignacio Rockwill

    Which is why I think Stratolaunch is a front for the aircraft’s true purpose working for some three letter agency.

  • Paul451

    and normal winter weather.

    Hardly. Arctic temperatures during February are around 30 degrees C above typical.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    Limited number of airfields? The width of a runway able to handle the jet wash from the Roc (aka Bidzilla) isn’t that different from a lumbering B-52. There are a lot of ex-SAC airfields looking for users. Problem with the Roc is the old under-powered engines from the donor 747s that reduces aircraft performance.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    Just in jest. If you fitted an over the wing mount to the Roc (aka Birdzilla). It would make the perfect transporter of the huge composite cylinders that the folks at Hawthorne are manufacturing in the near future.

  • Jeff2Space

    Yes, an old ex-SAC airfield would work just fine. I’d imagine that a Roc that’s fully loaded with a launch vehicle under the center is going to be plenty heavy and need a good long runway for takeoff.

  • Jeff2Space

    DOD is interested in launch readiness (the ability to launch in a few days when a need arises). This would appear to be a possible solution. Still, I’d worry about any system with a single point of failure. As far as I know, there is only one copy of Roc (the large aircraft) in existence. Two would be better for this use because you could always have one “ready to go” even if the other is down for maintenance or repair.

  • Bulldog

    Completely agree. You can’t throw a stone without hitting a former SAC or AMC base so to speak. Off the top of my head I can name a bunch in my old haunting grounds alone: Loring, AFB, ME, Dow AFB, ME, Pease AFB, NH, Westover ARB, MA (Active but shared civilian access), Griffis AFB, NY, and Plattsburgh AFB, NY. I would guess finding adequate runways wouldn’t be too terribly difficult.

  • duheagle

    SpaceX isn’t building BFR-BFS in Hawthorne. Anyway, Roc is way too big to get in and out of the dinky Hawthorne Airport that adjoins the SpaceX plant.

  • Michael Halpern

    No but i can see them using it for the engines and they already make tps there, they could also make a lot of kicker/tug vehicles there too BFR will need a way to more easily handle more orbits at once after all

  • Zed_WEASEL

    AFAIK SX is building a new BFR assembly facility on the waterfront at the LA or Long Beach harbour. So the composite cylinders could be barge from the water front to LAX. But my up thread post isn’t too serious.

    “Folks from from Hawthorne” is just my discrete way of avoiding naming SX.