It’s hard to keep track of all the tech billionaires who are investing their fortunes into space technology. We know Elon Musk has SpaceX, Jeff Bezos has Blue Origin, and Richard Branson has Virgin Galactic. Did you forget about Paul Allen? Well his company, Vulcan Aerospace, reminded us all they’re still around in big way.
In the Mojave desert, they rolled out the Stratolaunch airplane – and it’s huge. With a wingspan of 385 feet, it blows away the previous record holder, Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose.
The plan is to use Stratolaunch to ferry spacecraft to very high altitudes under its belly, where they can then be launched that much closer to orbit and with some orbital velocity already established. It’s another way to lower launch costs, as the aircraft is of course re-usable, much like SpaceX’s booster stages. Stratolaunch has the advantage of being able to deliver multiple payloads to different orbits in the same mission.
This approach of launching spacecraft from a plane may not sound new, as Orbital ATK has been doing this for awhile now. Indeed, Stratolaunch is partnering with Orbital to use Orbital’s launch vehicles together with Stratolaunch’s aircraft.
These are indeed exciting times in space technology. One wonders what we might achieve if all of these billionaires and government were to team up toward a common project, but having a diverse set of technologies being developed independently has the nice benefit of “hedging our bets” as we reverse the downward trends of the US’s spaceflight capabilities.
Image credit: Stratolaunch Systems Corporation