Stargazer (aircraft)

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Stargazer and Pegasus F43 in flight over Atlantic (KSC-20161212-PH LAL01 0009).jpg
"Stargazer" flying over the Atlantic Ocean carrying a Pegasus XL rocket
Type Lockheed L-1011 TriStar
Registration N140SC
Owners and operators Orbital ATK
Northrop Grumman
Status Active

Stargazer, registration number N140SC, is a Lockheed L-1011 TriStar built in 1974, that was modified in 1994 to be used by Orbital Sciences (later Orbital ATK, now Northrop Grumman) as a mother ship launch pad for Pegasus rockets. As of December 2016, 43 rockets (containing 94 satellites) have been launched from it, using the Pegasus-H and Pegasus-XL configurations.[1][2]


The first Pegasus launch to use Stargazer was conducted on 27 June 1994, and was the maiden flight of the Pegasus-XL. Previous launches used the NASA-operated Boeing NB-52B Balls 8, which was also used for four subsequent launches, as the original Pegasus could not be launched from Stargazer due to clearance issues. A modified version, the Pegasus-H, was introduced to rectify this.

In addition to Pegasus launches, Stargazer was used for captive tests and transportation of the X-34 hypersonic research aircraft; however, drop tests used Balls 8. Orbital Sciences also offer the aircraft for research flights.[3] It is capable of carrying a 23,000 kilograms (51,000 lb) payload to an altitude of 12,800 metres (42,000 ft).[4]

Orbital Sciences Stargazer departing from Vandenberg on 27 June 2013, carrying the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) aboard a Pegasus XL rocket

Pegasus launches using Stargazer are usually conducted from Vandenberg Air Force Base. However, launches have also been conducted from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the NASA Kennedy Space Center, the NASA Wallops Flight Facility and from launch sites outside the United States: Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands and Gando Airport in Spain.[5]

In 2015, Stargazer was re-painted to reflect Orbital Sciences' merger with Alliant Techsystems.[6]

On 15 December 2016, Stargazer launched CYGNSS on behalf of NASA on its second attempt; the first was scrubbed on 12 December due to issues with the hydraulic system responsible for separating the Pegasus rocket from the launch aircraft. [7]

It is the planned launcher of the Ionospheric Connection Explorer, and during a ferry flight an issue was able to be noticed.[8]


The Lockheed TriStar upon which Stargazer is based first flew in February 1974, and was operated as a commercial airliner primarily by Air Canada until May 1992, when it was so renamed and inducted into its use in the Pegasus launch system.[9] Originally a passenger airliner, the Lockheed TriStar was converted into its current form by Orbital Sciences Corporation.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Orbital ATK Pegasus". Orbital Sciences Corporation. Retrieved 2018-02-28.
  3. ^ ""Stargazer" L-1011 Carrier Aircraft". Orbital Sciences Corporation. Retrieved 2009-02-20.
  4. ^ "L-1011 Fact Sheet" (PDF). Orbital Sciences Corporation. Retrieved 2009-02-20.
  5. ^ Krebs, Gunter. "Pegasus". Gunter's Space Page. Retrieved 2009-02-20.
  6. ^ Ray, Justin. "Photo: New Orbital ATK paint job for Pegasus carrier jet". Spaceflight Now. Spaceflight Now Inc. Retrieved 9 June 2016.
  7. ^
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ []
  10. ^ [2]