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  [Discuss] Paul G. Allen's Stratolaunch Systems

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Author Topic:   [Discuss] Paul G. Allen's Stratolaunch Systems
Robert Pearlman
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posted 12-13-2011 12:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Editor's note: In an effort to keep the topic Stratolaunch Systems, A Paul G. Allen Project focused on status updates, reader's feedback and opinions are directed to this thread.

Please use this topic to discuss Stratolaunch Systems' plan to bring airport-like operations to the launch of commercial and government payloads and, eventually, human missions.

cspg
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posted 12-13-2011 01:55 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It looks like Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose.

At least they could wait to see if the scaled-down version of this actually works...

Jay Chladek
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posted 12-13-2011 04:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Technically, both SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo are the sub-scale test vehicles for this as both verified the dropship approach. At this point, scaling it up is about all one can do to answer the next few questions.

If you are trying to hit orbit, the launch vehicle and carrier aircraft have to be a certain minimum size to carry enough fuel to reach orbital velocity — if we are talking about a payload big enough for revenue generating passengers.

Orbital Sciences has already shown the approach can work in smaller scale with air launched Pegasus and with the amount of investment needed to build a launch vehicle, it will in my opinion be better to go ahead and build it "full size" as opposed to doing yet another sub-scale bird. Since Rutan practically designed the other two systems, he already has plenty of test data on them and their performance.

If this thing is going to be as big as is being hinted at, the stress on that center wing spar is going to be MASSIVE. This aircraft looks like it will ultimately have a 747 wingspan practically. Granted Rutan probably has had a few of those questions answered with his White Knight birds, but the flight tests should be very interesting to watch.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 12-13-2011 04:47 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Jay Chladek:
This aircraft looks like it will ultimately have a 747 wingspan practically.
Not even close — it will be much bigger.
It will use six 747 engines, have a gross weight of more than 1.2 million pounds and a wingspan of more than 380 feet.
By comparison, the Boeing 747 has a wingspan of only 211.5 feet.

SpaceKSCBlog
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posted 12-13-2011 07:26 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceKSCBlog   Click Here to Email SpaceKSCBlog     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Even if this never flies, it's just further proof that commercial space is the future.

More and more successful entrepreneurs are investing in commercial space. These people got rich by seeing a money-making opportunity before everyone else.

With so many companies involved in designing commercial space vehicles now, it's clear that a lot of folks see the potential to make money in microgravity.

It won't be the tourism, although that's the common perception. It will be all the medical, biological, industrial and other discoveries that can only happen in microgravity. I think they see the Bigelow space station as the primary destination.

I wish I could see ahead to 2020, because the world is about to change, and change big.

328KF
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posted 12-13-2011 09:22 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for 328KF   Click Here to Email 328KF     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I had the same first impression of the aircraft... shades of the Spruce Goose. One thing I found in a live blog from the press conference was a little confusing:
Vulcan CEO — have identified two 747s they will acquire — initial test flight in 2015 time frame and initial launch in 2016 time frame
So are the twin fuselages being custom built or will these be highly modified 747 airframes? Either way, we'll have something to look forward to seeing fly after those last shuttle/SCA flights.

Great to see Rutan and Allen working together on this. I like this kind of commercial space development, where the entrepreneurs see a market, come up with a product to meet the need, and invest their own capital at their own risk.

Given the track record of Scaled though, I wouldn't bet any money on those schedule predictions!

dabolton
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posted 12-13-2011 09:47 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dabolton   Click Here to Email dabolton     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Seems like giant size fly-back mothership concept originally envisioned for the space shuttle is coming to fruition. Has a booster that large ever been air-launched before? Can imagine if it fails and comes back to earth fully loaded it would be a quite an explosion.

Jay Chladek
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posted 12-13-2011 09:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
By comparison, the Boeing 747 has a wingspan of only 211.5 feet.
Okay, so it will have a wingspan almost twice the size of a 747. Good grief, this thing is going to be a MONSTER.

Knowing Rutan, there will likely be some off the shelf technology, but it will be minimal. The cockpit on one of the fuselages looks like it is 747 based and of course the engines will be intended for 747 use as well. But everything else will likely be built from the ground up.

Indeed I think the schedule seems pretty optimistic as well. But hey, you have to start somewhere. The amount of composite construction that has to be done to build this thing though is going to make it the most massive structure ever done this way. Boeing has done something similar with their 787, but this is a different animal and while Scaled specializes in composites, this is going to be a massive undertaking, even for them. Judging by the shapes of the fuselages though, Burt may have taken that into account. Plus, the wing design has no sweep. So it looks like he is taking a building block approach of potentially using standardized sections to help speed construction by not requiring too many specialized molds or shaping.

By the way, anyone else notice that the capsule on the front of the orbital rocket in the CGI video seems to look an awful lot like a Dragon capsule? If so, I wonder if Musk might provide one for testing?

Robert Pearlman
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posted 12-13-2011 11:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Jay Chladek:
If so, I wonder if Musk might provide one for testing?
As described in the full release, SpaceX is a subcontractor to Stratolaunch Systems, responsible for providing the entire booster, from engines to capsule.

Also, it should be noted that while Rutan is serving on the board of directors for Stratolaunch, he is not "the responsible designer" (his words). He is retired. Beyond the initial concept work, he is leaving the craft's design to those younger then him working at Scaled.

cspg
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posted 12-14-2011 01:12 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
From the press release:
Stratolaunch Systems will bring airport-like operations to the launch of commercial and government payloads and, eventually, human missions.
From what airport when you take into consideration the wingspan?

Rockets fly out over the ocean — where would this thing take off from so as to avoid carrying a fully loaded rocket over populated areas?

cspg
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posted 12-14-2011 01:19 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by SpaceKSCBlog:
Even if this never flies, it's just further proof that commercial space is the future.
And we need yet another launcher? I thought that there were already too many launchers chasing too few payloads...
quote:
It won't be the tourism, although that's the common perception. It will be all the medical, biological, industrial and other discoveries that can only happen in microgravity.
That's what we've been told in the mid-80s. Remember the Industrial Space Facility? What happened since? Not much. If those entrepreneur, industrial, pharmaceutical, were that interested in zero-gravity (again, I thought that micro-gravity wasn't suitable), what has changed fundamentally since the 80s? The cost per pound to orbit hasn't dropped and as a consequence facilities to perform such research do not exist (or nobody is investing in them).

But it may happen. I'm just not certain that any entrepreneur has the billions to do it alone.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 12-14-2011 01:54 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by cspg:
From what airport when you take into consideration the wingspan?
The aircraft will be built and based out of the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, and their animation shows use of the Shuttle Landing Facility at Kennedy Space Center.

According to the release though, for takeoff and landing, the carrier aircraft will require a runway 12,000 feet long.

There are a number of airports that can accommodate that requirement, including JFK International Airport in New York, which has the nation's third longest landing strip at 14,572 feet.

SpaceKSCBlog
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posted 12-14-2011 05:31 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceKSCBlog   Click Here to Email SpaceKSCBlog     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think folks are overlooking one factor — it's not just the length of the runway, but also the width.

The wingspan on this bad boy is 385 feet. The SLF is 300 feet. The Stratolaunch CGI showing it launching from the SLF shows the wings extending beyond the edges of the runway.

That's what will truly limit potential sites.

Some other thoughts...

How far can this fly before refueling? If it will be tested in the Mojave, and it needs to fly to KSC, if it can't fly 2,500-3,000 miles non-stop then it needs to stop and refuel somewhere. If there's no adequate runway between the two points, what do they do? Mid-air refueling?

And they better build more than one. Redundancy is the name of the game in this business. They'll need a fleet, which means parking facilities at KSC or wherever.

Jay Chladek
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posted 12-14-2011 10:14 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by cspg:
And we need yet another launcher? I thought that there were already too many launchers chasing too few payloads...

And none of them have a fully reuseable first stage. If this thing can fly and do what is advertised, it opens up a lot of possibilities. Except for the spacecraft (if Dragon can achieve full reuseability), only items that won't be recovered would be the rocket stage to get it into orbit, the spacecraft's propulsion module and the stabilizer wing. Do that and one might be able to cut operational launch costs in half (assuming the turnaround time for the launch aircraft is relatively quick between launch missions).

Prospero
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posted 01-15-2012 11:48 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Prospero     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I like this design. It's close to what the space shuttle should have been like and the air launch concept makes sense from the point of view that you can prep the launcher at a relatively conventional airport and launch the spacecraft over a handy patch of desert or open see. Obviously the runway will need to be extra wide (and maybe re-enforced) but at least that's a straightforward engineering problem.

Personally I'd love to see a launching site developed for this system in Scotland. Two reasons for this:

  1. It's a great location for launching stuff into polar orbit if there's enough of a market there to justify it.
  2. I'd be able to drive up there and watch the launches!
I really hope this project works out.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 11-27-2012 04:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
FlightGlobal reports that Stratolaunch and SpaceX have parted ways.
"Stratolaunch and SpaceX have amicably agreed to end our contractual relationship because the current launch vehicle design has departed significantly from the Falcon derivative vehicle envisioned by SpaceX and does not fit well with their long-term strategic business model," says Gary Wentz, Stratolaunch CEO, in a 27 November email.

"Moving forward, Stratolaunch has engaged Orbital Sciences Corporation to evaluate and develop alternative solutions with the objective of arriving at a design decision in the early spring timeframe. The other segment contractors will continue to proceed forward in accordance with existing plans since their interfaces have been defined," he adds.

Jay Chladek
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posted 11-27-2012 05:51 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That tells me perhaps they weren't quite hitting their lift targets for stage 1 as an increase of chine area is a way to get a little more wing area without needing a major wing re-design (which might suggest the original design wasn't quite capable of hitting a target orbit). Curious.

Even though it is being downplayed in the report, the loss of SpaceX is a blow given that while OSC has been a player in the commercial space market for longer than Musk's company, they aren't quite as far along with their large cargo capsule and sufficient booster capability as SpaceX. Although, in another sense it does seem like a match made in heaven since OSC started the winged launcher to orbit approach with Pegasus all those years ago. For some people (like Dan Tani who is working for OSC again), this could seem like coming full circle.

cspg
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posted 03-06-2014 08:34 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The Soviets had a very similar designed under study in the early 1980s, the Myasishchev M-52 based upon the 3M bomber (M-4 Molot, Bison in NATO terminology). p336 in "Unflown Wings: Soviet/Russian Unrealised Aircraft Projects 1925-2010", Midland Publishing, 2013.

And by the way, what a book! The most fascinating (and sometimes weird) aircraft concepts ever.

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