Stratolaunch Announces New Launch Vehicles

Air-launched boosters (Credit: Stratolaunch)

SEATTLE, Wash. – August 20, 2018 (Stratolaunch PR) – Stratolaunch announces today its new family of launch vehicles that will enter regular service starting in 2020. The company’s unique air-launch system will use the world’s largest aircraft as a mobile launch platform, capable of deploying launch vehicles that will carry satellites to multiple orbits and inclinations on a single mission. With these new vehicles, Stratolaunch is poised to make access to space convenient, affordable, and routine.

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Stratolaunch Aircraft Strolls Outside for a Little California Sun

Stratolaunch aircraft rolls out of its hangar in Mojave, Calif. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

Stratolaunch emerged from its hangar over the weekend to soak up some California sun. Engineers took the giant, twin fuselage carrier aircraft outside for some tests.

Stratolaunch carrier aircraft has a wingspan of 385 ft. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

The announced plan was to conduct some taxi tests on Runway 12/30. The plane didn’t make it that far. Engineers put the airplane through a series of fueling, fueling, full-power engine and communication tests.

Stratolaunch carrier aircraft outside for tests. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

The aircraft will begin by launching Pegasus XL boosters, which are produced by Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems.

Stratolaunch carrier plane is a dual fuselage aircraft. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

The company is also working on a medium launcher that expected to debut in 2021. There are not a lot of details about the project, which is under the direction of Vice President of Propulsion Jeff Thornburg.

Stratolaunch aircraft outside for testing. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

I caught a glimpse of the aircraft from Highway 14 during my return from the Small Satellite Conference in Utah. I was probably five miles away at the time, but the thing still looked massive sitting there next to the hangar.

NASA Delays ICON Launch Due to Booster Problem

ICON spacecraft (Credit: NASA)

NASA and Northrop Grumman have postponed the launch of the agency’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) satellite. ICON, which will study the frontier of space, was targeted to launch on a Pegasus XL rocket June 14 from the Kwajalein Atoll in Marshall Islands.

During a ferry transit, Northrop Grumman saw off-nominal data from the Pegasus rocket. While ICON remains healthy, the mission will return to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for rocket testing and data analysis. A new launch date will be determined at a later date.

China Launches Remote Sensing Satellite, SpaceX Plans Early Monday Flight

SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off with a Dragon resupply ship on April 2, 2018. (Credit: NASA)

At least 10 launches are planned worldwide this month. The launches include crew and cargo missions to the International Space Station and the first commercial flight of Rocket Lab’s Electron booster. Orbital ATK’s Pegasus XL will launch NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) from the Marshall Islands on June 14.

China got June off to a successful start on Saturday with the launch of the Gaofen-6 remote sensing satellite aboard a Long March 2D rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

SpaceX is up next, with an early morning launch on Monday morning. A Falcon 9 is set to launch the SES 12 communications satellite from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The four-hour launch window opens at 12:29 a.m. EDT (0429 GMT). The company has no plans to recover the previously used first stage.

The current launch schedule is below. View updates here.

JUNE 2018

June 2

Launch Vehicle: Long March 2D
Payload: Gaofen 6 remote sensing satellite
Launch Site: Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, China
Outcome: Success

June 4

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: SES 12 communications satellite
Launch Window: 12:29-1:27 a.m. EDT (0429-0527 GMT)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
Webcast: www.spacex.com

June 6

Launch Vehicle: Soyuz
Payload: ISS 55S Crew flight
Launch Time: 7:11 a.m. EDT (1111 GMT)
Launch Site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan
Webcast: www.nasa.gov

June 11

Launch Vehicle: H-2A
Payload: IGS Radar 6 reconnaissance satellite
Launch Window: 12:00-2:00 a.m. EDT (0400-0600 GMT)
Launch Site: Tanegashima Space Center, Japan

June 14

Launch Vehicle: Pegasus XL
Payload: NASA Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) satellite
Launch Time: TBD
Launch Site: L-1011, Kwajalein, Marshall Islands
Webcast: www.nasa.gov

June 22/23

Launch Vehicle: Electron
Payloads: 2 Spire & 1 GeoOptics satellites
Launch Time: TBD
Launch Site: Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand

First commercial flight of Electron.

June 28

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: Dragon ISS resupply (CRS-15)
Launch Time: 6:03 a.m. EDT (1003 GMT)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, Florida
Webcast: www.spacex.com and www.nasa.gov

June TBD

Launch Vehicle: Long March 2C
Payload: PRSS 1 remote sensing satellite
Launch Time: TBD
Launch Site: Taiyuan, China

Launch Vehicle: Long March 3A
Payload: Fengyun 2H geostationary weather satellite
Launch Time: TBD
Launch Site: Xichang, China

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: Telstar 19V communications satellite
Launch Window: TBD
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, Florida
Webcast: www.spacex.com

GAO: Launch Vehicle Problems Caused Delay in NASA Science Satellite

ICON spacecraft (Credit: NASA)

Problems with its launch vehicle and range schedule conflicts have caused a year-long in the launch of a new NASA spacecraft that will study the Earth’s ionosphere, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.

The June 2017 launch date for the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) satellite was delayed after two of the three stages of the Pegasus XL’s launch vehicle were involved in a transport accident, the GAO found. The stages were returned to Orbital ATK’s facility for inspection and testing, but no damage was found.

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Three Launches Scheduled Over Two Days Next Week

ISS with Soyuz and Progress spacecraft docked to it. (Credit: NASA)

There are a dozen orbital launches planned around the world through the end of June.

China will lead off on Sunday as it launches its Chang’e-4 lunar relay satellite from Xichang. A lunar lander and rover targeted for the far side of the moon is scheduled for launch at the end of the year.

Orbital ATK will follow with the launch of a Cygnus resupply ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday from Wallops Island. On Tuesday, SpaceX is scheduled to launch 5 Iridium Next satellites and a pair of scientific spacecraft for NASA.

Other notable missions scheduled through June include a Soyuz crew mission and a SpaceX Dragon resupply flight. Rocket Lab is probably going to launch the first commercial flight of its Electron booster from New Zealand. However, the company has not published a launch window for the flight.

The current global schedule is below. Be sure to check Space Flight Now’s launch schedule for updates.

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Stratolaunch Plans for First Flight This Summer

Credit: Stratolaunch Systems Corp.

Stratolaunch delivered some good news this week in an very odd manner.

During a briefing for reporters at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Stratolaunch officials said they planned to conduct the first flight of the company’s massive air-launch plane this summer at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

Which company officials made these claims? Nobody outside the briefing knows. Reporters who attended were barred from quoting any of them by name.

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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.

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U.S. Air Force Secretary Visits Mojave, Tours Stratolaunch

If Stratolaunch only had a rocket worthy of the ginormous carrier aircraft they built. No offense to Orbital ATK and the Pegasus XL, but that’s not what this thing was built for. Maybe they will develop one eventually.

Mojave: The Once and Future Spaceport

Sunset from the Mojave Air and Space Port on Oct. 30, 2014. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

At some point in the next six months, the Mojave Air and Space Port could experience something that not happened here in 13 long years: an actual spaceflight.

Richard Branson is predicting that Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity could reach space on a flight test from Mojave by December. For once, his prediction does not appear to be based on unrealistic hopes, the need to reassure customers about delays, or a complete misunderstanding of what is happening on the ground here.

In other words, it’s actually plausible. Whether it will happen on that schedule…that’s another question. Flight test is notoriously unpredictable and very tough on timetables.

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Mojave Journal: Good Rockets are Hard to Find

Stratolaunch carrier aircraft rolled out of its hangar for the first time. (Credit: Stratolaunch)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Checking my messages on Wednesday at LAX after a long flight from back east, I was startled to learn that Paul Allen’s ginormous Stratolaunch aircraft had been rolled out of its hangar for the first time in Mojave while I was in transit.

I had been expecting some official roll-out ceremony later this year ala SpaceShipTwo where the press and public could get a good look at the twin fuselage, WhiteKnightTwo-on-steroids air-launch platform.

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Orbital Launch Statistics for 2016

The Soyuz MS-02 rocket is launched with Expedition 49 Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, flight engineer Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Ryzhikov, Kimbrough, and Borisenko will spend the next four months living and working aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)
The Soyuz MS-02 rocket is launched with Expedition 49 Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, flight engineer Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Part 2 of 2

There were 85 orbital launches in 2016, not including the Falcon 9 that exploded on launch pad prior to a pre-flight engine test. The launches break down as follow:

  • United States: 22 (22-0)
  • China: 22 (20-1-1)
  • Russia: 19 (18-1)
  • Europe: 9 (9-0)
  • India: 7 (7-0)
  • Japan: 4 (4-0)
  • Israel: 1 (1-0)
  • North Korea: 1 (1-0)

For a more detailed description of these launches, please read US, China Led World in Launches in 2016.

Let’s look at launches by booster and spaceport and the flights that were required for human spaceflight.
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USA, China Led World in Launches in 2016

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)

Part 1 of 2

The United States and China led the world in orbital launch attempts in 2016 with 22 apiece. The combined 44 launches made up more than half of the 85 flights conducted around the world.

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Orbital ATK’s Pegasus Launches NASA CYGNSS Spacecraft

Stargazer aircraft carrying Pegasus XL rocket with CYGNSS satellite. (Credit: Orbital ATK)
Stargazer aircraft carrying Pegasus XL rocket with CYGNSS satellite. (Credit: Orbital ATK)

DULLES, Va. (Orbital ATK PR) – Orbital ATK (NYSE: OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, today announced that its Pegasus® rocket successfully launched the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) satellite for NASA. The successful launch was the 29th consecutive successful mission for the Pegasus rocket since 1997 and the 43rd overall flight of the world’s first privately developed commercial rocket.

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