What is happening with Stratolaunch?


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Doug Messier at his website Parabolic Arc today asks some pertinent questions about Stratolaunch and their seeming inability to settle on the rocket that will be launched from the giant plane they are building.

After going through SpaceX and Orbital ATK, the company talked to anyone and everyone with a rocket engine or an idea for one. They must have hit pay dirt with someone. [emphasis in original]

As Messier notes, both SpaceX and Orbital ATK have, in that order, made and then broke their partnership with Stratolaunch. Both companies were supposed to build that rocket, but for unknown reasons decided soon after that they couldn’t do this job. Stratolaunch has since been looking for a third company to build that rocket, but apparently has not found it. This information strongly suggests that the rocket companies found some fundamental engineering or management problems at Stratolaunch that scared them off. These same issues are also making it difficult for Stratolaunch to find a third rocket company.

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2 comments

  • PeterF

    Perhaps they will team up with Virgin Galactic?
    Eventually, we may see component manufacturers that don’t build rockets but that will supply engines and other parts for vehicle manufacturers Like Jeff Bezos is planning to do with the BE-4 and ULA? Thats what AMC did when they found it was cheaper to buy engines and other parts from another manufacturer than build them themselves.
    Unfortunately for AMC, they found out too late that loss of control of their supply lines was a slow motion disaster that put them at the mercy of hostile competitors.
    I once tried to find a rear axle for my 67 Rambler Rebel (great car for a new driver). A direct replacement had to come out of another AMC built in the first half of the year, powered by a 6 cylinder without power steering or air conditioning. Air conditioning? What does air conditioning have to do with a rear axle? Sad to see it go, my VW beetle parts were interchange across about 20 years. I want a spaceship built to be repairable with a screwdriver and vice grips.

  • Edward

    PeterF wrote: “Unfortunately for AMC, they found out too late that loss of control of their supply lines was a slow motion disaster that put them at the mercy of hostile competitors.

    I believe that is why SpaceX is “vertically integrated,” the business phrase meaning that the company itself makes most of its own parts, especially the important parts, such as engines. (Vertical integration in the space world means that the payload is mated to the rocket while the rocket is vertical, an example being the Saturn V.)

    SpaceX chose to buy some of its minor parts from outside vendors, because who could screw up the manufacture of a strut?

    PeterF wrote: “I want a spaceship built to be repairable with a screwdriver and vice grips.

    But take along some duct tape; that stuff does better and can be applied faster than chewing gum and bailing wire.

    One of my early on the job lessons as an engineer was “design for assembleability” followed directly by “design for repairability” because whatever you were designing, it was going to have to be taken apart and put back together.

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