Tag Archives: Pegasus

Stratolaunch to build its own upper stages

Capitalism in space: Stratolaunch today announced that it is designing and building three differently-sized upper stage rockets to attach to the fuselage of its giant Roc airplane.

Beside the Pegasus rocket, owned by Northrop Grumman, aimed for first flight in 2020, Stratolaunch will build a medium and medium-heavy rockets, with the former set for a 2022 flight, as well as a fully reusable space plane, now in early development.

The space plane concept would apparently be capable of taking payloads up and down from orbit, and could therefore become the first totally reusable launch capability.

Overall, it does appear that the company, unable to find someone else to design its upper stage, has been forced to do it itself.

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Northrop Grumman’s first Pegasus launch delayed indefinitely

The first launch of a Pegasus rocket following the completion of the sale of Orbital ATK to Northrop Grumman has been delayed indefinitely because of “off-nominal data” detected in the rocket.

The payload is a NASA climate research satellite dubbed ICON. The rocket and launch crew were on board the L1011 carrier plane on they way to the Pacific launch area for next week’s launch when they detected the issue and decided to return to California.

This is not the first problem with this particular Pegasus launch.

ICON’s launch has been delayed a year by a pair of concerns with its Pegasus launcher. Engineers wanted more time to inspect the Pegasus rocket motors after they were mishandled during shipment to Vandenberg, officials said. That pushed the launch back from June to December 2017, the next availability in the military-run range at Kwajalein.

Then managers decided to ground the mission to assess the reliability of bolt-cutters used to jettison the Pegasus rocket’s payload fairing and separate the satellite in orbit. Workers installed smaller bolts in the fairing and satellite separation mechanisms, a measure officials said will ensure the cutters do their jobs.

For Northrop Grumman this isn’t the best way to start its new rocket business, but better a delay than a failed launch.

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Stratolaunch to make first flight later this year

Capitalism in space: Paul Allen said at a space conference today that Stratolaunch will likely make its maiden flight later this year.

Actual satellite launches will have to wait until around 2020, however, as the giant plane will first have to be certified by the FAA, a process expected to take one and a half to two years.

The profitability of this launch system at the moment remains an unknown. The only rocket presently set to launch on Stratolaunch is Orbital ATK’s Pegasus, which is designed to launch small to mid-size satellites. Stratolaunch will therefore have to compete with the slew of new smallsat rocket companies that should be becoming operational in the next two years. It will be interesting to see if this air-launched system will be able to compete with them.

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Stratolaunch completes initial taxi tests

This past weekend Stratolaunch successfully completed its second series of taxi tests, reaching a speed of 40 knots (46 miles per hour) as it moved down the runway.

[I]n December Stratolaunch capped off the year with a successful low-speed taxi test. During the taxi, the vehicle reached a top speed of 28 miles per hour (45 kilometers per hour) as it headed down the runway. Following the test, Aircraft Program Manager George Brugg stated, “This was another exciting milestone for our team and the program. Our crew was able to demonstrate ground directional control with nose gear steering, and our brake systems were exercised successfully on the runway. Our first low-speed taxi test is a very important step toward first flight.”

Last weekend, Sratolaunch kicked off 2018 with two days of additional taxi tests. Most notably, the tests included reaching the maximum taxi speed of 40 knots (46 miles per hour). According to Allen, these tests allowed the team to “verify control responses.”

There is a tiny 35 second video of this last test at the link.

The article provides a lot of details about Stratolaunch and its future, including the suggestion that the giant airplane could become the main launch platform for Orbital ATK’s Pegasus rocket. Pegasus presently has only one launch listed on its manifest, using its L1011 Stargazer airplane.

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Orbital ATK’s Pegasus launches successfully

Orbital ATK’s Pegasus rocket was successfully launched today from the bottom of its L-1011 airplane, placing in orbit a NASA constellation of eight smallsat satellites designed to study hurricanes.

he use of an eight-satellite constellation will allow for more frequent observations, allowing for a better characterization of the early stages in a cyclone’s formation and of the storm’s eventual decay. Once in orbit, the satellites will be spaced evenly around their orbital plane, achieving an angular separation of around 45 degrees from each other. The CYGNSS satellites were built by the Southwest Research Institute and the University of Michigan, while their deployer was developed by Sierra Nevada Corporation. Each satellite has a mass of 28.9 kilograms (63.7 lb), with an overall payload mass of 345.6 kilograms (761.8 lb) including the deployer. The CYGNSS mission is expected to last a minimum of two years.

This was the first Pegasus launch since 2013. I’m not sure why it has not been getting more business, but it does have another launch now scheduled for June.

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Stratolaunch to use Orbital ATK’s Pegasus rocket

The competition heats up? Vulcan Aerospace and Orbital ATK announced today that they are renewing their partnership, using Pegasus in conjunction with Stratolaunch to put satellites into orbit.

Under a multiyear “production-based partnership,” the companies said, Orbital ATK will provide “multiple” Pegasus XL air-launch rockets to be used with the Stratolaunch aircraft, which, when completed, will have the largest wingspan of any plane ever built.

With the Pegasus XL rockets, the Stratolaunch aircraft will be able to launch small satellites weighing up to 1,000 pounds, according to the firms’ joint statement released Thursday. Pegasus rockets already have done this kind of work: Orbital ATK has used them to launch satellites from the belly of its Stargazer aircraft.

This deal suggests to me that Vulcan Aerospace has a problem. It couldn’t find anyone to build a large rocket for Stratolaunch and this deal was therefore conjured up to paper over this problem. First , it appears that the reason Orbital ATK originally backed out was that they didn’t want to build the new rocket. Maybe they had engineering concerns. Maybe they were worried about cost or management. Regardless, they didn’t want to build it.

Second, using Stratolaunch with Pegasus seems pointless if the satellite weigh is still limited to only 1,000 pounds. That’s the payload capacity of Pegasus using Orbital ATK’s L-1011 Stargazer airplane. Why bother switching to Stratolaunch if the giant plane doesn’t give you any benefits?

Thus, it appears to me that what has happened is that Vulcan needed some rocket to use with Stratolaunch so that they could squelch the rising doubts about the company. This deal gives them that. It also probably gives Orbital ATK some extra cash to get them to agree to do it.

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