Scaled Composites Stratolaunch

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Stratolaunch carrier aircraft
Artist's depiction of Stratolaunch carrier at apogee, just before launching spacecraft (center vehicle) into orbit.
Role Space Launch Carrier
National origin United States of America
Manufacturer Scaled Composites
Status In development

The Scaled Composites Model 351 (nicknamed the "Roc") is being built for Stratolaunch Systems to provide a platform from which air-launch space missions can be staged.[1] With a wingspan of 117 m (385 ft), the design has the longest wingspan of any airplane to date (July 2015).[2]

In August 2015, Scaled Composites president Kevin Mickey stated the company has so far assembled "roughly 200,000 pounds of composite structure" for the vehicle and if put on an American football field, "its wingtips would extend beyond the goalposts by 15 feet on each side."[3]

Each of the twin fuselages of the aircraft is 238 feet (72 metres) long and will be supported by 12 main landing gear wheels and two nose gear wheels, for a total of 28 wheels. It will require 12,000 feet of runway to lift-off.[4]

The air-launch altitude is planned for about 35,000 feet, according to Chuck Beams of Vulcan Aerospace, a company owned by Paul Allen which oversees the project. As of June 2016, the project is 76% complete.[5] Payload is noted as in excess of 500,000 pounds.[6]

As of November 2015, the rocket or payload for the mega aircraft has not been publicly announced, after two previous plans—SpaceX Falcon 9 Air and Orbital ATK Pegasus II rocket design concepts—had been shelved.

As of October 2016 "Orbital ATK will supply multiple Pegasus XL rockets for Stratolaunch to mount underneath the company’s huge carrier aircraft currently under construction in Mojave, California".[7]


The project was started nearly a year prior to the December 2011 public announcement. Dynetics began work in early 2011, and had approximately 40 employees working on the project at the time of the announcement, as of December 2011. SpaceX efforts began only shortly prior to the public announcement.[8]

In January 2012, Stratolaunch CEO Gary Wentz made it explicit that Stratolaunch would name the carrier aircraft only later. The "mothership is currently known only by its Scaled model number: M351."[9]

Construction progress on the giant hangar being built in Mojave, California for the Stratolaunch Carrier Aircraft was given in an October 2012 story at Parabolic Arc.[10] The first of two manufacturing buildings, the "88,000 square foot facility [to] be used to construct the composite sections of the wing and fuselage sections" was opened for production in October 2012, two months ahead of schedule and on budget.[11]

In October 2013, the first flight of the carrier aircraft was expected in 2016, with the first flight of the air-launched rocket in 2018.[12]

As of April 2015, the aircraft was 40% complete, with fabrication of parts at 80%.[13] In November 2015, Stratolaunch CEO Gary Wentz "stepped down as president and CEO of Stratolaunch Systems to join United Launch Alliance to lead human launch services" for ULA. Vulcan Aerospace ended its contract with Orbital ATK in mid-2015 and indicated that a decision on a new rocket for the Stratolaunch Carrier Aircraft would be made in late 2015.[14]

In June 2016, the initial aircraft is nearing completion, with Scaled Composites having 300 people working on the project. Only a few composite parts have yet to be made, assembled, and installed on the aircraft body. Overall assembly is 76% complete.[15]


The Model 351 has a structural similarity to the Scaled Composites White Knight Two. It features two main fuselage sections joined with a common wing with a centrally mounted Mating and Integration System (MIS) capable of handling a 230,000 kg (500,000 lb) load and being developed by Dynetics. Each fuselage has its own horizontal and vertical stabilizer. Three engines are positioned on pylons outboard of each fuselage. The cockpit is positioned within the starboard fuselage.[16]

The aircraft will be powered by six 56,000 lbf (250 kN) Pratt & Whitney PW4056 engines[17] that were obtained from "two used 747-400s that will be cannibalized for engines, avionics, flight deck, landing gear and other proven systems that can be recycled to cut development costs."[8] As of April 2012, two former United Airlines Boeing 747-400 aircraft (Serial numbers 28715 & 28716) have been acquired and are currently stored at the Mojave Air & Space Port.[18]

The primary launch cargo was originally slated be a multistage booster developed by SpaceX. However in December 2012 Stratolaunch announced that they had amicably parted company with SpaceX due to the design evolving away from a good fit with SpaceX's long-term business model. In late 2012 and early 2013, Stratolaunch worked with Orbital Sciences Corporation to develop an alternative rocket conceptual design.[19] By May 2013, Orbital was under contract to develop the Pegasus II for Stratolaunch, with a payload of 6,100 kg (13,500 pounds).[20]

The Orbital contract work was ended in mid-2015, and Stratolaunch has not publicly announced a new plan for the rocket or payload for the large aircraft as of November 2015.[14]

As of October 2016 "Orbital ATK will supply multiple Pegasus XL rockets for Stratolaunch to mount underneath the company’s huge carrier aircraft currently under construction in Mojave, California."[7]

World's longest wingspan[edit]

Allen and aircraft initial[21] concept designer Burt Rutan stated that the carrier aircraft would have a wingspan of 117 m (385 ft),[22] This would make it the largest airplane, by wingspan, to ever fly.[23]

Specifications (Stratolaunch Systems Carrier)[edit]

Wingspan comparison of the Stratolaunch carrier with other large airplanes

Data from [24]

General characteristics

  • Length: 238 ft (73 m)
  • Wingspan: 385 ft (117 m)
  • Gross weight: 1,300,000 lb (589,670 kg)
  • Powerplant: 6 × Pratt & Whitney PW4056 turbofan, 56,750 lbf (252.4 kN) thrust each
  • Range: 1,130 nmi; 2,092 km (1,300 mi)

See also[edit]

Related development


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b Clark, Stephen. "Stratolaunch announces plan to fly with Pegasus rockets – Spaceflight Now". Spaceflight Now. Spaceflight Now Inc. Retrieved 9 March 2017. 
  8. ^ a b Mecham, Michael; Frank Morring, Jr. (2011-12-20). "Allen Places Big Bet On Air Launches". Aviation Week. Retrieved 2011-12-23. Dynetics has been under contract to Vulcan for almost a year and has some 40 employees on the project so far. SpaceX joined more recently, and the overall team is still working through details of how to progress toward its 2016 first launch. 
  9. ^ Belfiore, Michael (2012-01-05). "Stratolaunch: world's biggest airplane to launch spaceships". Retrieved 2012-01-14. The mothership is currently known only by its Scaled model number: M351 ...[with design] planned for completion by late summer of next year ... [and to] begin flight testing in late 2015 in Mojave, with rocket test launches from the airplane to begin at Cape Canaveral in late 2016. 
  10. ^ Messier, Doug (2012-10-05). "Space Goose's Nest Grows in the Mojave". Parabolic Arc. Retrieved 2012-10-07. 
  11. ^ Lindsay, Clark (2012-10-23). "Stratolaunch opens production facility at Mojave spaceport". NewSpace Watch. Retrieved 2012-10-27. (subscription required (help)). 
  12. ^ Norris, Guy (2013-10-04). "Stratolaunch quietly making progress". Aviation Week. Retrieved 2013-10-04. 
  13. ^ Patrick Clarke (17 April 2015). "Paul Allen Launches 'Vulcan Aerospace' to Enhance Space Travel". Travel Pulse. 
  14. ^ a b Stratolaunch’s Plans Up in the Air, Jeff Foust, SpaceNews, 18 November 2015, accessed 28 November 2015.
  15. ^ Gates, Dominic (2016-06-28). "Paul Allen's giant plane takes shape in the desert, but its market is unclear". Retrieved 2016-06-29. 
  16. ^ W.J. Hennigan (14 December 2011). "Paul Allen to build behemoth plane for space launches". The Los Angeles Times. 
  17. ^ Mecham, Michael (2011-12-14). "Stratolaunch Aims to Break Affordability Barrier". Aviation Week. New York. Retrieved 2011-12-14. 
  18. ^ "Scaled Composites Fleet Details and History". Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  19. ^ "Stratolaunch News Page". Retrieved 19 March 2013. 
  20. ^ Bergin, Chris (2013-05-25). "Stratolaunch and Orbital – The Height of Air Launch". NASA SpaceFlight. Retrieved 2013-05-24. 
  21. ^ Belfiore, Michael (2012-01-23). "Burt Rutan on Designing the World's Largest Aircraft". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved 2012-01-20. In 1991, to address a requirement to launch a booster heavier than 500,000 pounds, [Rutan] did the Model 205 and 206 preliminary designs. ... "About 10 years ago, to encourage innovation and design responsibility among the young engineers at Scaled, I took on the status of design advisor, while the title of Principal Configuration Designer went to a very talented team of designers, including Jim Tighe, Cory Bird, Bob Morgan and others. Except for the Bipod roadable aircraft, all the airplanes designed at Scaled after SpaceShipOne were not Burt Rutan designs." 
  22. ^ Paur, Jason (2011-12-13). "Microsoft Billionaire Paul Allen Launches New Space Venture". Wired. New York. Archived from the original on 2011-12-14. Retrieved 2012-11-14. 
  23. ^ "Paul Allen to unveil Stratolaunch Systems today". NewSpace Journal. 2011-12-13. Archived from the original on 2011-12-17. Retrieved 2011-12-13. 
  24. ^ Inside The Roc's Lair AviationWeek 2015-02-25. Retrieved 2015-09-20.

External links[edit]