Stratolaunch vehicles

Microsoft founder’s space company unveils ambitious new rockets and cargo vehicle

Image credit: Stratolaunch

Stratolaunch, the space company launched by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, has unveiled details about a raft of new space-ready vehicles that will enter regular service starting in 2020.

The new vehicles include medium-lift rockets and a reusable space cargo plane that it is developing, injecting more competition into the lucrative launch services market.

The company also said its “unique air-launch system” will utilise the world’s largest aircraft as a platform from which multiple launches can be deployed at once.

This capability will allow, for example, the deployment of launch vehicles that will carry satellites to multiple orbits and inclinations on a single mission.

With its rockets, Allen’s Stratolaunch Systems Corp is trying to cash in on higher demand in the coming years for vessels that can put satellites into orbit. These vehicles will have to compete domestically with other space entrepreneurs and industry stalwarts such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and United Launch Alliance - a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

“We are excited to share for the first time some details about the development of our own, proprietary Stratolaunch launch vehicles, with which we will offer a flexible launch capability unlike any other,” said Jean Floyd, Stratolaunch CEO.

“Whatever the payload, whatever the orbit, getting your satellite into space will soon be as easy as booking an airline flight.”

Seattle-based Stratolaunch, founded by Allen in 2011 is not expecting to conduct its first rocket launch until 2020 at the earliest and the massive airplane it is building to deploy the rockets is still in pre-flight testing.

Rather than blasting off from a launch pad, Stratolaunch’s rockets will drop at high altitude from underneath the company’s six-engine, twin-fuselage airplane - the largest ever built by wingspan.

This launch method is similar to the one being developed by billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

Stratolaunch’s plane is designed to carry a rocket and payload with a combined weight of up to 250,000 kg, on par with what a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket can launch from the ground.

Around 800 small satellites are expected to launch annually beginning around 2020, more than double the annual average over the past decade, according to Teal Group space analyst Marco Caceres.

It was reported in March that Space X is eyeing up its own launch facilities which will be constructed in South Texas. 

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