Categories
GeekWire

Stratolaunch marks May the 4th with fifth flight test

Stratolaunch took the “fifth” on May the 4th, otherwise known as Star Wars Day. Today brought the fifth flight test for Stratolaunch’s 385-foot-wide carrier aircraft, known as Roc (in a nod to the giant bird of Middle Eastern mythology).

Roc ranks as the world’s largest airplane by wingspan, and is designed to carry and release the company’s rocket-powered Talon-A hypersonic vehicles for military and commercial applications.

Seattle billionaire Paul Allen, the late co-founder of Microsoft, founded the venture in 2011 — but after Allen’s death in 2018, ownership was transferred to a private equity firm. Like Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit, Stratolaunch takes advantage of air-launch technology pioneered during the award-winning SpaceShipOne campaign that Allen bankrolled nearly two decades ago.

Roc took off from California’s Mojave Air and Space Port at 7:39 a.m. PT today for a flight that lasted four hours and 58 minutes and reached a maximum altitude of 22,500 feet. Stratolaunch took note of the Star Wars Day connection in a post-landing tweet. “The force is strong in this plane,” the company said.

The test’s prime objective was to check the aerodynamic performance of a new pylon added to Roc’s center wing section.

Categories
GeekWire

Stratolaunch flexes mammoth plane’s landing gear

Stratolaunch, the air-launch venture created by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen a decade ago, successfully conducted a full test of the landing gear on its mammoth Roc carrier aircraft today.

Today’s outing at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port was the fourth test flight for the plane, which is named after a mythical giant bird and ranks as the world’s largest aircraft by wingspan. Its 385-foot spread is more than half again as wide as the wings of a Boeing 747.

Allen never got to see Roc take to the air: He died in 2018 at the age of 65, just months before the plane’s first flight. But under new ownership, Stratolaunch is following through on Allen’s efforts to develop the plane as a flying launch pad.

A month ago, Stratolaunch’s test pilots retracted and extended the plane’s left mid-main landing gear. Today’s follow-up test validated full landing gear operations, including door functionality and alternate gear extension. Pilots also evaluated Roc’s general performance during a flight that reached an altitude of 16,000 feet and lasted for an hour and 43 minutes.

Categories
GeekWire

The world’s widest airplane flies for the third time

The mammoth airplane that got its start with backing from the late Seattle billionaire Paul Allen took to the air today for its third test flight — marking a new chapter in Stratolaunch’s decade-long effort to create a flying launch pad.

Stratolaunch’s twin-fuselage, six-engine Roc aircraft, named after a mythical bird, is the world’s largest airplane by wingspan. Its 385-foot spread is more than half again as wide as the wings of a Boeing 747.

When Allen founded Stratolaunch back in 2011, his intention was to use Roc to send rockets into orbit from the air. But after Allen’s death in 2018, the company was transferred to new owners — and Roc’s primary purpose pivoted to launching hypersonic test vehicles for military and commercial research.

If the development program proceeds as planned, Stratolaunch could begin testing its air-launched, rocket-powered Talon-A hypersonic vehicle as early as this year.

Categories
GeekWire

World’s biggest airplane flies again for Stratolaunch

Stratolaunch, the aerospace company founded by the late Seattle billionaire Paul Allen, put the world’s biggest airplane through its second flight test today, two years after the first flight.

“We are airborne!” Stratolaunch reported in a tweet.

Today’s takeoff from California’s Mojave Air and Space Port at 7:28 a.m. PT marked the first time the plane, nicknamed Roc after the giant bird of Arabian and Persian mythology, got off the ground since Stratolaunch’s acquisition by Cerberus Capital Management in October 2019.

Roc rose as high as 14,000 feet and traveled at a top speed of 199 mph during a flight that lasted three hours and 14 minutes — which is close to an hour longer than the first flight on April 13, 2019. During that earlier flight, the airplane reached a maximum speed of 189 mph and maximum altitude of 17,000 feet.

Zachary Krevor, Stratolaunch’s chief operating officer, said today’s flight accomplished its test objectives by checking the performance of improved instrumentation, a more robust flight control system and an environmental control system that allowed the pilots to work in a pressurized cockpit. Krevor said the crew included chief pilot Evan Thomas, pilot Mark Giddings and flight engineer Jake Riley.

The flight’s spiciest moment came at touchdown, when one of the plane’s landing gears settled the runway while the other was still in the air. “We did touch down initially on one gear, but that’s exactly the technique we prefer to use during a crosswind landing,” Krevor told GeekWire during a post-landing teleconference. “Though we stayed within our crosswind limits, we did have a little bit of a crosswind, and the aircrew did an excellent job of bringing the aircraft down.”

Since Roc’s first flight in 2019, the business model for the 10-year-old venture has shifted: In its early years, Stratolaunch focused on using Roc as a flying launch pad for sending rockets and their payloads to orbit. The concept capitalizes on the air launch system pioneered by SpaceShipOne, which won financial backing from Allen and won the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004,

The new owners still expect to use Roc for air launch, but the current focus is on using the plane as a testbed for Stratolaunch’s hypersonic flight vehicles. Once the plane is cleared for regular operations, perhaps next year, Stratolaunch could begin launching its Talon-A prototype hypersonic plane.

Categories
GeekWire

Stratolaunch makes progress on hypersonic flight plan

Stratolaunch, the aerospace company founded by the late Seattle tech titan Paul Allen, is gearing up on several fronts for tests of its hypersonic launch platform — a year and a half after its mammoth airplane first flew.

Allen created the company in Seattle back in 2011 to launch rockets from the world’s biggest aircraft, but after the Microsoft co-founder’s death in 2018, the company was acquired by private investors. Since then, Stratolaunch has put increased emphasis on using the airplane as a platform for testing hypersonic vehicles.

Today, Stratolaunch announced that it’s partnering with an aerospace research and development company called Calspan to build and test models of its Talon-A hypersonic vehicle, a reusable prototype rocket plane.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Stratolaunch resurrects hypersonic rocket vehicle

Stratolaunch hypersonic vehicle
An artist’s conception shows Stratolaunch’s Talon-A hypersonic test vehicle. (Stratolaunch Illustration)

Now that it’s under new management, Stratolaunch is retooling a concept for a rocket-powered hypersonic vehicle that it first unveiled 18 months ago.

Back then, it was called the Hyper-A testbed vehicle, and it represented one of the engineering frontiers for Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s space venture.

A month later, Allen passed away at the age of 65 after battling a recurrence of non-Hodgkin’s disease. Stratolaunch went through a year’s worth of retrenching, leading to a change of ownership last October.

The new ownership group, led by billionaire investor Steve Feinberg, recently confirmed that it was continuing Stratolaunch’s work on hypersonic vehicles — and today it unveiled a rebranded version of the Hyper-A, now known as the Talon-A.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Stratolaunch keeps working on hypersonic vehicles

Stratolaunch hypersonic testbed
Stratolaunch’s swept-wing hypersonic testbed would be propelled by a rocket engine. (Stratolaunch Illustration)

It’s been three months since ownership of the Stratolaunch space venture was transferred from the late Seattle billionaire Paul Allen’s estate to a private equity firm, but the new owners say they’re still pursuing one of the old owner’s dreams: hypersonic flight.

Get the news brief on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Stratolaunch says it’s under new ownership

Stratolaunch plane
Stratolaunch’s plane soars during its first test flight in April. (Scaled Composites Photo)

Stratolaunch, the company that was founded by the late Seattle billionaire Paul Allen in 2011 to build a flying launch pad for rockets, says it’s under new ownership.

The transition serves as the latest sign that Jody Allen — Paul Allen’s sister, who took control of his Vulcan Inc. holding company as the trustee and executor of his estate — is paring back and refocusing his many enterprises. Earlier this week, word spread that Vulcan was trimming a significant number of jobs.

Stratolaunch reported the ownership handover today on Twitter and its website, without saying who the new owner is. However, information gleaned from the grapevine at Mojave Air and Space Port, where Stratolaunch’s flight operations are based, suggests that private investors are playing a role.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Stratolaunch rebuilds team for monster airplane

Stratolaunch plane in the air
Stratolaunch’s six-engine, twin-fuselage airplane makes its first flight in April. (Stratolaunch Photo)

Stratolaunch is hiring — nearly a year after the death of its billionaire backer, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and five months after the company’s monster plane took its first and only test flight.

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.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Sources: Stratolaunch space venture is up for sale

Stratolaunch plane
Stratolaunch’s plane soars during its first test flight in April. (Scaled Composites Photo)

Sources say Vulcan Inc. is looking to sell Stratolaunch, the space venture founded by the late Seattle billionaire Paul Allen, and one report says the asking price could be as high as $400 million.

That price tag was reported today by CNBC, quoting unnamed sources who were said to be familiar with the discussions.

Vulcan had nothing new to say about Stratolaunch’s fate, which has been the subject of rumors for months. “Stratolaunch remains operational,” Alex Moji, manager of corporate communications at Vulcan, told GeekWire in an emailed statement. “We will provide an update when there is news to share.”

Get the full story on GeekWire.