Stratolaunch teams up (again) with Orbital ATK

Stratolaunch with Orbital ATK rockets
An artist’s rendering shows the Stratolaunch twin-fuselage airplane with Orbital ATK’s Pegasus XL air-launch vehicles slung underneath. (Credit: Vulcan Aerospace)

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch Systems has renewed its partnership with Orbital ATK on a platform that will make use of the world’s biggest airplane to launch rockets into orbit.

Allen started up Stratolaunch five years ago, and since then the venture has been developing a 385-foot-wide, twin-fuselage airplane inside a giant hangar at Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The company, which is part of Allen’s Vulcan Aerospace group, aims to start launching payloads by 2020.

Stratolaunch teamed up with Orbital Sciences Corp. back in 2012, with the idea of having Orbital supply rockets that would be launched from the airplane in mid-flight. Since then, Orbital merged with ATK, and Stratolaunch had to rethink its partnerships amid the changing market for launch services.

Today, the two companies announced that they’ve forged a multi-year, production-based partnership, under which Orbital ATK will provide its Pegasus XL rockets for Stratolaunch’s system.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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