Stratolaunch Took to Air Two Years Ago

Stratolaunch takes off. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

Two years ago today, on April 13, 2019, Stratolaunch’s enormous dual fuselage aircraft with a 385-ft wingspan took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port trailing a cloud of dust. It flew over the Mojave Desert for 2 hours 29 minutes before landing back on runway 12-30.

The plane was the dream child of Scaled Composites’ founder Burt Rutan and funded by the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen. It was designed to air launch satellites using a medium-size rocket.

Allen didn’t live to see the first, and thus far, only flight test of the aircraft. He passed away the previous October from non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Stratolaunch flies (Credit: Stratolaunch)

His sister, Jody, was the executor of Allen’s estimated $20 billion estate. She decided to sell the company. The new owners are now preparing to use the aircraft to launch hypersonic test vehicles.

The giant aircraft was out on Runway 12-30 for several days last week. It was likely conducting some taxi tests. It is not clear when it will take to the skies again.

2020 a Busy Year for Suborbital Launches

New Shepard landing on the pad in West Texas on October 13, 2020, with the NASA Lunar Landing Sensor Demo onboard. (Credit: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Suborbital launch used to be a sleepy field that rarely attracted much public attention. Let’s face it, atmospheric research and student experiments are not front-page news. Sounding rockets don’t have the majesty and power of a Falcon 9 or Atlas V.

In recent years, exciting new entrants in the field and widespread streaming of launches have made suborbital flights exciting. Last year saw important suborbital flight tests by SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and Skyrora that garnered worldwide interest.

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Stratolaunch Selects Calspan to Build & Test Models for Talon-A Mach 6 Vehicle

Talon A hypersonic vehicle (Credit: Stratolaunch)

BUFFALO, NEW YORK, November 10, 2020 (Calspan PR) – Stratolaunch LLC, a leader in testing and development for the high-speed aerospace market, has chosen Calspan to build and test models of the fully reusable Talon-A autonomous, liquid rocket-powered Mach 6-class hypersonic vehicle. Under the contract, Calspan Systems, located in Newport News, Virginia will build the scale models, one of which will be tested in Calspan’s Transonic Wind Tunnel in Buffalo, NY.

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Virgin Galactic Pivots High-speed Aircraft Program in a Crowded Field

Credit: Douglas Messier

Virgin Galactic’s record of delays and broken promises raises doubts about its ambitious supersonic aircraft project as company founder Richard Branson fights to save his struggling empire in the midst of a global pandemic.

Updated on 10/27/20 at 12:39 p.m. PDT to include spending comparison of Virgin Orbit to Rocket Lab.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Richard Branson’s dream of a suborbital Virgin Galactic vehicle zipping passengers between distant cities at hypersonic speeds above Mach 5 (6,174 km/h, 3,836 mph) is dead. At least for now.

In August, the space tourism company he founded pivoted to a slower supersonic Mach 3 (3,704 km/h, 2,302 mph) business jet. Virgin Galactic unveiled a mission concept for an aircraft that would carry 9-19 passengers at a cruising altitude of 60,000 ft (18,288 m).

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Supersonic & Hypersonic Civilian Transport Projects in Development

Overture supersonic passenger jet (Credit: Boom Supersonic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Boom Supersonic’s recent rollout of its XB-1 supersonic demonstrator aircraft marked a milestone in an accelerating race to revive an era of civilian supersonic travel that ended when the Concorde jetliner was retired in 2003.

XB-1, aka Baby Boom, is set to begin flight tests next year from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The Mach 2.2 (2,717 km/h, 1,688 mph) vehicle is the precursor to Boom’s 55-seat Overture airliner, which is scheduled to begin carrying passengers in 2029.

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Hermeus Wins Air Force Investment After Demonstrating Mach 5 Engine

Mach 5 aircraft (Credit: Hermeus Corporation)

ATLANTA (Hermeus Corporation PR) — Hermeus Corporation, the aerospace company developing Mach 5 commercial aircraft, has partnered with the U.S. Air Force and the Presidential and Executive Airlift Directorate to work toward hypersonic travel for the Department of Defense.  This award comes under an Other Transaction For Prototype Agreement Direct to Phase II contract through AFWERX after Hermeus successfully tested a Mach 5 engine prototype in February 2020.

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A Look at SpaceX’s and Virgin Galactic’s Hypersonic Plans

I found this video entertaining. I’m not sure this guy has any grasp of the technological challenges or how SpaceX and Virgin Galactic are trying to tackle it.

He also calls a pair of routine pilot proficiency flights of WhiteKnightTwo at Spaceport America mysterious. Nothing really unusual about them. They conducted these flights at Mojave regularly.

Hypersonic sounds great, but it’s not clear when or if it will carry passengers. What we might be left with are hypersonic weapons indistinguishable from nuclear missiles. The chance of an accidental nuclear exchange could become much greater.

Reaction Engines Announces Conceptual Study for SABRE Engine Hypersonic Test Bed

SABRE engine (Credit: Reaction Engines)

ABINGDON, UK (Reaction Engines PR) — Reaction Engines is delighted to announce the launch of a conceptual study to develop a flying Hypersonic Test Bed (HTB) concept for the in-flight demonstration of SABRE technology. 

The study was initiated through the UK Space Agency and will be conducted under the European Space Agency General Support Technology Programme (GSTP).  It involves a consortium consisting of Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (including Cranfield University), Reaction Engines, BAE Systems and Frost & Sullivan.

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Stratolaunch Unveils Hypersonic Test Beds, Space Vehicle

Talon A hypersonic vehicle (Credit: Stratolaunch)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Stratolaunch has unveiled a pair of hypersonic test bed vehicles and a reusable spacecraft the company plans to launch from its giant dual fuselage airplane.

“Talon-A is a fully reusable, autonomous, liquid rocket-powered Mach 6-class hypersonic vehicle with a length of 28 feet (8.5 m), wingspan of 11.3 feet (3.4 m), and a launch weight of approximately 6,000 pounds (2,722 Kg),” the company’s website said.

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Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Goes Public With Extravagant Promises to Keep

Richard Branson wears the SpaceShipTwo flight suit. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

After 15 years of making extravagant but unkept promises to fly more than 600 “future astronauts” to space, Richard Branson must now please an entirely new group of people who are usually much shorter on patience: shareholders.

Following the completion last week of a merger with Social Capital Hedosophia (SCH), the British billionaire’s Virgin Galactic suborbital “space line” will begin trading under its own name on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on Monday.

Going public now is an unusual move for a space tourism company that hasn’t flown a singlet tourist to space since Branson announced the SpaceShipTwo program in 2004. Some might see it has putting the cart before the horse.

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Hermeus Raises Seed Funding for Hypersonic Aircraft from Khosla Ventures, Announces Advisory Board

Hypersonic vehicle (Credit: Hemeus)

ATLANTA, GA – Hermeus Corporation, a startup increasing the speed of air transportation by developing hypersonic aircraft, today announced a Seed round investment. The round was led by Khosla Ventures, with additional participation from private investors. The financing will further the development and test of Hermeus’ hypersonic propulsion system.

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X-60A Hypersonic Flight Research Vehicle Program Completes Critical Design Review

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFRL PR) – The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Aerospace Systems Directorate, High Speed Systems Division, in partnership with Generation Orbit Launch Services, Inc., is developing the X-60A vehicle. It is an air-dropped liquid rocket specifically designed for hypersonic flight research.

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U.S. Air Force Designates GOLauncherOne Hypersonic Flight Research Vehicle as X-60A

GOLauncherOne hypersonic vehixcle. (Credit: Generation Orbit)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (USAF PR) – The Air Force has designated the GOLauncher1 (GO1) hypersonic flight research vehicle as X-60A.  The vehicle is being developed by Generation Orbit Launch Services, Inc. under contract to the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Aerospace Systems Directorate, High Speed Systems Division.

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