Tag Archives: Roc

Northrop Grumman buys back Pegasus rockets from Stratolaunch

Northrop Grumman announced this week that it has bought back from Stratolaunch the two Pegasus rockets that company had bought for the purpose of launch from its giant Roc airplane.

Phil Joyce, vice president of space launch programs at Northrop Grumman, said this week that the company is trying to sell the launches using the two remaining Pegasus XL rockets, and officials plan to keep the Pegasus rocket’s L-1011 carrier jet flying for at least five or 10 more years.

The airborne launch of NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, scientific satellite Thursday night off Florida’s east coast is the final scheduled flight of a Pegasus XL rocket. Variants of the solid-fueled Pegasus rocket have flown on 43 satellite delivery missions since 1990.

“We actually purchased those back (from Stratolaunch),” Joyce said in an interview with Spaceflight Now. “So they’re in a very advanced state of integration, which means they’re available for a very rapid response launch. We could launch one of those in six months, the second one probably in eight (months).

This buy back tells us two things, both negative, about both companies. With Stratolaunch, it means they have abandoned entirely the idea of launching satellites using a combination of Roc and Pegasus. The reasons are unclear, but I would guess that they have either discovered the engineering didn’t work, or the economics made the combination unprofitable, being too expensive.

As for Pegasus, it appears the rocket has no further contracts, and has had so much trouble drumming up business that they have decided not to build more. Instead, they are going to try to get contracts for these already built Pegasuses, and are likely going to offer lower prices for them. Even if this works, it does appear that we are about to see the end of the Pegasus rocket.

Created in the early 1980s by Orbital Sciences (later Orbital ATK) as a cheaper alternative to the expensive big rockets of the time, Pegasus had a viable business model for years. Slowly over time however its launch price rose, until it was no longer very cheap. And when SpaceX and other new cheaper alternatives arrived in the past six years, the company, eventually absorbed by Northrop Grumman, was unable to remain competitive.

The irony here is that Northrop Grumman purchased Orbital ATK expressly to allow it to enter the launch market, using both Pegasus and Antares. With Pegasus gone, and Antares still failing to find any customers other than NASA, it doesn’t look like the merger is paying off well for the company.

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Stratolaunch has begun hiring again

Capitalism in space: After a retrenchment where the company trimmed its staff last year, Stratolaunch has now begun hiring again.

Allen founded the venture in 2011, with the goal of using what is now the world’s largest airplane as a flying launch pad for orbital-class rockets and space planes. But after his death at the age of 65, Stratolaunch trimmed its staff dramatically. Some saw April’s test flight at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port as primarily a tribute to Allen, and as the prelude to either a sale or a shutdown.

Representatives of the Allen family’s Vulcan holding company have insisted that Stratolaunch remains operational. LinkedIn listings indicate that Jean Floyd is still president and CEO, although three company vice presidents left in July.

Now Stratolaunch is posting 11 job openings, including listings for two test pilots. “As a test pilot on the history-making Stratolaunch Carrier Aircraft, the world’s largest-wingspan aircraft, you will have the opportunity to accomplish new milestones in aviation,” the company says. The pilot positions are among nine openings in Mojave, with two openings (for a purchasing agent and a contract specialist) based in Seattle.

It however remains unclear the exact manner in which their giant plane Roc will be used. So far there appears little interest in using it, in conjunction with Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus rocket, to launch satellites. It could be that the plane might instead be used in connection with ground-based operations.

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Stratolaunch flies!

Capitalism in space: Stratolaunch’s giant two fuselage airplane Roc successfully launched on its first flight this morning.

It took off at 10 am Eastern, and as I write this the plane apparently is still in the air. Update: They have landed successfully, completing the first flight..

Below is video of the plane’s take off. This plane, the largest ever to fly, is quite impressive.

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Stratolaunch’s Roc airplane completes fastest taxi test

Capitalism in space: Stratolaunch’s giant Roc airplane has successfully completed its fastest taxi test so far, traveling 90 miles per hour down a runway.

This is about two-thirds of the planned fastest taxi test speed, about 150 miles per hour. Once these tests are completed successfully, they will then finally attempt take-off.

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Stratolaunch completes taxi test at 80 mph

Capitalism in space: Stratolaunch this week completed a series of taxi tests with its giant airplane Roc, reaching speeds as much as 80 mph.

This is a little less than half the speed required for take-off. It also appears that they are proceeding very cautiously with these taxi tests, increasing the speed with each new test by small amounts, about 20 to 40 mph.

The big moment will of course be when this giant plane actually takes off. It appears that might happen within a month or so.

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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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More testing of “Roc,” Stratolaunch’s giant airplane

This past weekend Stratolaunch completed more tests on its giant airplane, now nicknamed “Roc.”

They had intended to do another taxi test, but didn’t for some reason. Instead, they did test fueling operations. full-power engine tests, and communication tests.

Their upcoming schedule appears to me to be very extended.

Stratolaunch executives laid out the test schedule for the plane, which was built by Mojave-based Scaled Composites, during a space conference in April. The company plans to follow up on the first two taxi tests (at runway speeds of 15 mph and 40 knots) with three more at speeds of 70, 85 and 120 knots.

The last speed is roughly what’s needed for takeoff.

After the fifth taxi test, Stratolaunch would put the plane into the air for a series of flight tests over the course of what’s expected to be 18 to 24 months. In April, executives said they were targeting the first flight test for this summer (which technically runs until Sept. 23).

They also have not yet announced any launch contracts, though there have been announcements that both Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus and Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne will fly on Roc.

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