For Sale: The World’s Largest Airplane*

Stratolaunch takes off. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

As we previously reported, Stratolaunch is up for sale. Paul Allen’s sister Jody Allen, the executor of her brother’s estate, has no interest in continuing the development of the giant airplane, which is designed to air launch rockets.

CNBC reports on the eye popping price tag:

Holding company Vulcan is seeking to sell Stratolaunch for $400 million, people familiar with the matter told CNBC. Vulcan is the investment conglomerate of late billionaire Paul Allen, a Microsoft co-founder. Allen died last October following complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The hefty price tag includes ownership of the airplane as well as the intellectual property and facilities.

Stratolaunch is the world’s largest airplane by wingspan, which stretches 385 feet — longer than an American football field. The plane is powered by six jet engines salvaged from Boeing 747 aircraft.

Allen’s vision of a massive plane that can launch rockets from the air was at least partially fulfilled in April, when Stratolaunch flew for the first time after about eight years in development. Based at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, the giant airplane flew for more than two hours before landing after what was deemed a successful first flight.

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Virgin Orbit Loses 35 OneWeb Launches, Sues Over Termination Fee

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 performs its first captive carry of LauncherOne. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

When the contract was announced in June 2015, it seemed like a blockbuster deal:  satellite Internet provider OneWeb had placed an order for 39 launches with options for 100 more for Virgin Galactic’s (now Virgin Orbit’s) LauncherOne.

What made the order extraordinary was not just the large number of launches, but the fact that the rocket really didn’t even exist yet. (The fact that Richard Branson’s Virgin Group was an investor in OneWeb probably helped.)

Four years later, the blockbuster deal is a bust. According to a lawsuit filed this week by Virgin Orbit, OneWeb last year canceled 35 of the 39 planned launches., slicing most of the value from the $234 million deal.

SpaceNews reports that Virgin Orbit orbit is suing for $46.32 million it claims OneWeb owes it from a $70 million contract termination fee.

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Mojave Receives $1 Million for Taxiway B Extension

Taxiway B at the Mojave Air and Space Port will be extended into the field on the left of the photo. (Credit: Google Maps)

The Mojave Air and Space Port’s “taxiway of dreams” — Taxiway B — will be extended with the help of a $1.05 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“These Airport Improvement Grants are investments in our country’s critical infrastructure,” said DOT Secretary Elaine Chao in a press release. “This grant is a down payment to ensure Mojave remains an economic engine as demand grows.”

The taxiway is so nicknamed because it was built without having a specific tenant signed up. Taxiway B serves the FAITH hangar, which is home to Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company and their two vehicles, SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo.

A sister company, Virgin Orbit, plans to operate its Boeing 747 out of Mojave. The aircraft, which is named Cosmic Girl, will air launch satellites over the Pacific Ocean with the LauncherOne booster.

The funding to Mojave is part of $770.8 million in airport infrastructure grants announced on Friday. It is the third allotment of a total of $3.18 billion allocated under the DOT’s Airport Improvement Program.

Some Rocket Launches to Watch in 2018

The world’s most powerful booster is set to make a flight test sometime in January. If all goes well, 27 first stage engines will power the new booster off Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The three first stage cores will peel off and land for later reuse while the second stage continues into space.

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VOX Space Wins Defense Contract

LauncherOne ignites after being released from Cosmic Girl 747. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Orbit has received a Department of Defense (DOD) launch contract for its LauncherOne booster, the company announced this week.

“Their Space Test Program will fly some technology development payloads on our rocket as early as January 2019,” the company announced on Twitter.

LauncherOne will be air-launched from a modified Boeing 747 airliner. The first flight test is expected to occur in 2018.

The contract, which came through the VOX Space subsidiary that handles government work, came through the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx).

“We provide non-dilutive capital in the form of pilot contracts for commercial innovation that solves Dept. of Defense (DoD) problems. And we do so quickly, usually in under 90 days,” according to DIUx’s website. “Pilot contracts can include hardware, software, or unique services. More importantly, after a successful pilot, the company involved and any DoD entity can easily enter into follow-on contracts, just as fast.”

DIUx has also provided capital to two other space companies: Capella Space, a satellite company that uses synthetic aperture radar to provide Earth imagery that is based on Palo Alto, Calif.; and Orbital Insight, which provides geospatial data analytics that is based in Moutain View, Calif.

Virgin Orbit Cosmic Girl Promotional Video

Video Caption: On July 31, 2017 Virgin Orbit’s 747-400 named Cosmic Girl, touched down for the first time in Long Beach Airport. For our airport neighbors, it was a rare sighting of a 747 — and a mobile rocket launcher at that. For Virgin Orbit employees and supporters, including Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, the homecoming marked the completion of significant modification work that enables her to launch rockets for our satellite customers.

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Video: Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides Interview

Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides was interviewed on the TMRO Space show on Saturday. The interview begins at 20:54 in the above video.

Below are the highlights of the interview.

SpaceShipTwo

Whitesides was asked whether SpaceShipTwo could fly above the Karman line at 100 km (62.1 miles), which is the internationally recognized boundary of space. He didn’t provide a yes or no answer.

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The Year Ahead in Space

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.

A New Direction for NASA?

NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.

Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.

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Stratolaunch Accepts First 747 for New Launch Aircraft

A retired United Airlines 747 in front of the Scaled Composites hangar in Mojave. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)

HUNTSVILLE, AL, February 15, 2012 (Stratolaunch PR) – Today Stratolaunch systems closed on purchase of the first of two Boeing 747-400 aircraft that are being purchased from United Airlines.

Stratolaunch contractor Scaled Composites of Mojave California with support from their subcontractor BAE Systems has developed a complete plan for how the engines, landing gear, hydraulics and other subsystem components of these aircraft will be disassembled and reintegrated into a custom composite aircraft to be built by Scaled Composites in Stratolaunch’s new integration facility being built at the Mojave Air and Space Port.

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