Stratolaunch has been slowly but steadily working on a giant plane that spacecraft could piggyback on before launching in the sky. On Aug. 20 Stratolaunch said that it will expand into a “family of launch vehicles” with four different planes. They are expected to begin service launching satellites and vehicles in 2020.
“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, chief executive officer at Stratolaunch. “Whatever the payload, whatever the orbit, getting your satellite into space will soon be as easy as booking an airline flight.”
Previously, Stratolaunch billed itself as a platform that could help other rocket makers send their vehicles into orbit. The newest rocket gives the company the capability to do it on their own. The proposed “Medium Launch Vehicle” is an air-launch vehicle that can carry about 7,500 pounds of cargo.
The other new vehicles include a larger version of the air-launch vehicle, which will be capable of carrying more than 13,200 pounds, and a reusable spaceplane. The shuttle-like spaceplane concept is in the design study phase now. Stratolaunch describes it as having “initial designs optimized for cargo launch, with a follow-on variant capable of transporting crew.”
Stratolaunch’s first effort, the large aircraft called the Pegasus, hasn’t actually flown yet. The latest development from the 385-foot wide plane was a test of the six engines, performed on the ground.
Stratolaunch was founded by Paul G. Allen, formerly co-founder of Microsoft.