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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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Stratolaunch flies world’s biggest plane

Stratolaunch plane
Stratolaunch’s plane soars in a picture taken from a chase plane. (Scaled Composites Photo)

Stratolaunch, the aerospace venture founded by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, sent the world’s biggest airplane into the air today for its first flight test.

The twin-fuselage plane, which incorporates parts from two Boeing 747 jumbo jets and has a world-record wingspan of 385 feet, took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California for a flight that lasted two and a half hours.

For more than seven years, Stratolaunch has been working with Mojave-based Scaled Composites on the project, which aims to use the plane as a flying launch pad for orbital-class rockets. The first flight test had been anticipated for months.

“We finally did it,” Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd said today during a briefing.

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Stratolaunch space venture scales back sharply

Stratolaunch plane
A photo taken during a high-speed taxi test shows the nose gear on Stratolaunch’s twin-fuselage airplane rising from the runway at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port. (Stratolaunch Photo)

Stratolaunch, the Seattle-based space venture created by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen seven years ago, says it’s discontinuing its programs to develop a new type of rocket engine and a new line of rockets.

The company said it would continue work on the world’s largest airplane, which is designed to serve as a flying launch pad for rockets. Last week, Stratolaunch put its 385-foot-wide, twin-fuselage plane through a high-speed taxi test that many saw as a precursor for its first test flight at Mojave Air and Space Port.

“Stratolaunch is ending the development of their family of launch vehicles and rocket engine. We are streamlining operations, focusing on the aircraft and our ability to support a demonstration launch of the Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL air-launch vehicle,” the company said in an emailed statement. “We are immensely proud of what we have accomplished and look forward to first flight in 2019.”

The dramatic turn of events comes three months after Allen’s death.

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Test gets Stratolaunch super-plane set for takeoff

Stratolaunch plane
A photo taken during a high-speed taxi test shows the nose gear on Stratolaunch’s twin-fuselage airplane rising from the runway at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port. (Stratolaunch Photo)

Stratolaunch, the aerospace venture created by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, says its twin-fuselage, six-engine aircraft raced as fast as 136 mph down the runway at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port today during its latest taxi test.

That’s almost takeoff speed for the world’s largest airplane, which is designed to serve as a flying launch platform for orbital-class rockets.

One of the pictures released in the wake of today’s test run shows the plane’s nose gear rising from the runway, and Stratolaunch used the hashtag #wheelie in its celebratory tweet. It’s been said that one of the challenges during these high-speed tests is to keep the 385-foot-wide plane on the ground.

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