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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Video Caption: NASA successfully launched eight small satellites that will provide scientists with advanced technology to see inside tropical storms and hurricanes like never before. Called the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS), the constellation of eight microsatellite observatories launched Dec. 15 aboard an Orbital ATK air-launched Pegasus XL launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The rocket was dropped and launched from Orbital’s Stargazer L-1011 aircraft over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of central Florida.
DULLES, Va., 6 October, 2016 (Orbital ATK/Vulcan Aerospace PR) – Orbital ATK, Inc. (NYSE: OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, and Stratolaunch Systems today announced a multi-year production-based partnership that will offer significant cost advantages to air-launch customers. Stratolaunch Systems, in cooperation with Vulcan Aerospace, is responsible for realizing Paul G. Allen’s vision for space.
It has been a busy year for American rocket companies, with 19 successful missions flown by the nation’s three launch providers. The U.S. space transportation fleet became more diverse as three boosters and a cargo vessel made successful maiden flights in 2013.
Launch highlights for the year include a number of significant missions and firsts:
Orbital Sciences Corporation debuted its new Antares launch vehicle with two flawless flights in April and September;
Orbital’s new Cygnus freighter made a successful demonstration flight to the International Space Station (ISS), paving the way for commercial cargo deliveries and successfully closing out NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program;
SpaceX successfully debuted an upgraded version of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle in September;
On the same flight, SpaceX succeeded in a controlled re-entry of a Falcon 9 first stage, a crucial step toward its goal of making the rocket reusable;
Two month later, SpaceX launched a commercial communications satellite into geosynchronous orbit for the first time;
Orbital’s Minotaur V made a successful maiden flight in September by sending NASA’s LADEE orbiter to the moon;
United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V launched the space agency’s MAVEN probe to Mars two months later;
ULA increased its launch tempo, with 11 flights of the highly reliable Atlas V and Delta IV launch vehicles;
The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) in Virginia came into its own in 2013, with three orbital launches and the LADEE mission to the moon;