Stratolaunch tests engines on giant plane

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Capitalism in space: Stratolaunch announced today that it has successfully tested the six engines that will fly on the giant plane that it will use as a first stage.

This isn’t that big a deal, since the engines were built for the 747s that were scavenged by Stratolaunch to assemble their giant plane. If those engines didn’t work I would have been very surprised.

The most interesting part of this story is this:

Despite the plane’s giant size, Stratolaunch plans to initially use the aircraft as a platform for Orbital ATK’s Pegasus XL rocket, which is currently launched from a much smaller L-1011 airplane. The Stratolaunch plane will ultimately have the ability to carry three Pegasus rockets that could be launched one at a time on a single flight. An initial launch, the company said in May, could take place as early as 2019.

A recent deal could combine two of Stratolaunch’s partners. Scaled Composites, who developed the aircraft for Stratolaunch, is owned by Northrop Grumman, which announced Sept. 18 a deal to acquire Orbital ATK for $9.2 billion.

This might make Pegasus more affordable for smallsat launches, and provide those smallsat companies much greater launch flexibility. Moreover, the purchase of Orbital ATK by Northrop Grumman appears to work to the advantage of Stratolaunch.



  • Warren

    I think ‘avoidable’ is the right word since this will make the Pegasus much more expensive to use and less flexible since now you have to get three launch packages ready to go on the same date and time. Perhaps you were thinking of ‘affordable’.

  • Warren: You are correct. I have fixed the post.

    These days my fingers seem to be too often typing things independent to what my brain is thinking.

  • wodun

    This emphasizes the national security dimension of acquiring Orbital ATK.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “the purchase of Orbital ATK by Northrop Grumman appears to work to the advantage of Stratolaunch.

    Another interesting possibility is that Northrop Grumman may intend to have Orbital design the larger air-launched rocket that Stratolaunch was originally intended to launch. We will have to keep our eyes open for such an announcement.

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