The process of building Stratolaunch started quite early because it was long back and as soon as 2011 that Allen announced he wanted to do something in rocketry that one ever did before him.
In 2011 the statement given by the partner of Microsoft was that he was funding the venture Stratolaunch systems that would launch something never dreamt of on such a large scale. He said that his project would make space travel affordable and safe.
Stratolaunch Project after the Death of Paul Allen
The company Stratolaunch announced on 15 October 2018 after Paul Allen’s end that the company would make no more new rockets, but one also heard contrasting comments such as the announcement of the launch of six whole suites of missiles.
Three of these rockets are going to be entirely new, one of these new rockets would be used to bring cargo and people to and from the orbit, and there was no news about the rest of the suite. The first launch would take place by 2022
Purpose of Rockets and Stratolaunch
The objective behind launching rockets is to learn from the insights one can get from satellites which could better human conditions, and safeguard planet earth. The areas of improvement on Earth are communications, agriculture, ecology, and navigation.
The question that comes to mind is how a spacecraft helps with environmental change and agriculture.
The answer is that Stratolaunch is not your usual spacecraft and it opens to the world, what is called LEO or low earth orbit.
The Stratolaunch can deploy more satellites, and this would give us the answer to why weather is changing, and how we could better the agricultural produce.
The atmospheric chemistry in the space could tell us a great deal about climate change and how to mitigate the same.
Why Aren’t More Satellites Launched Into Space?
The reason is that launching satellites is very tough; the costs are very high, so satellites remain stuck on Earth. Stratolaunch aims to make space travel as affordable as any commercial flight is today. Let us see how –
Stratolaunch is the largest aircraft in the world by wingspan of 117 meters which is longer than a football field. This wingspan is approximately more than double the size of Boeing 747.
The Stratolaunch plane can reach a speed of 189 miles per hour, and enter a height of 17,000 feet was the result of a test flight for the aircraft, and the plane aims to reach 35,000 feet height and drop rockets that weigh up to 5 lakh pounds.
The first rockets of this spacecraft would start shooting jets in 2020.
The body or the fuselages of the Stratolaunch is symmetrical. These fuselages carry the rockets. The design is by a Canadian company, Pratt and Whitney which happens to work on both civil and military airlines.
Pratt and Whitney have designed six engines on 28 wheels, three wings, one in the center for the Stratolaunch, the total weight of the plane comes to 580 tonnes same as that of the Airbus 380.
Though the flight is this large, the taking off and landing are just like any other standard aircraft. The range which Stratolaunch can cover is 2000 nautical miles, the landing gear, and flight deck is kept the same as that of Boeing 747. It has two pilots and two cockpits.
Other Launch Vehicles like Stratolaunch
Now let us see the launch of rockets into the satellite with the help of Stratolaunch. That is what makes Stratolaunch the one stop shop for small satellite constellation deployment.
The first of these launch vehicles is Pegasus. This rocket has remained into space for 20 years. It has three propellant stages and one non-propellant stage. It can work properly on a payload of 454 kg.
The Stratolaunch can hold up to three such rockets. Pegasus is expensive because of being needed even by NASA.
The second air launch vehicles are the kind of medium launch vehicles which are satellites that can document changes in sea level, and detect the presence of Green House Gases or GHGs. These launch vehicles can help with climate change.
This is the clear cut advantage of air launch vehicles and how they help the earth. Times are changing and it is important to find out more about agriculture, GHG and climate change and their nexus with one another.
The next is a medium launch vehicle which is also known as a medium class air launch vehicle which the designer optimizes for short satellite integration timelines.
The Pegasus and medium launch vehicles are under development, and the heavy medium launch vehicles and space planes are under study. As per Stratolaunch, as the size of the satellite becomes smaller, organizations in more significant numbers can reach space, but launch capability is not that much, and satellites are stuck on Earth.
What Powers These Launch Vehicle’s Needs?
The answer is that the engine called PGA would power these launch vehicles. The company Stratolaunch is also working on the engine. This engine would work on liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen which produce 2 lakh pounds of thrust.
The Stratolaunch is such that rockets can go into space in what is known as low earth orbit.
This phenomenon of satellites going into lower earth orbit was known as the rockets slipping the bonds of surly earth, and this Stratolaunch is all about low earth orbit as against the later missions such as Apollo and Voyager which were venturing to the moon, and other planets of the solar system.
That said, vast and majority of the satellites and purposes from the earth have been to low earth orbit. This includes both crewed and non-crewed missions.
Stratolaunch Can Send Rocket in Low Earth Orbit
Let us first look at what is low earth orbit. Anything that ranges from 160-2000 km away from earth is called low orbit.
Most space flights, satellites, and international space stations are in low earth orbit.
This Stratolaunch would thus be very beneficial for those companies that wish to send satellites into space.
The positive aspect of Stratolaunch is that it can be used to carry smaller and cheaper rockets to reach the orbit.
Flying rockets has lesser stages when you are talking about Stratolaunch, so there are lower chances of something going wrong, and with missiles, nothing small ever goes wrong.
One thing which is being in the notice about Stratolaunch is that it does not have to wait for the weather to improve.
One guesses if Stratolaunch has some business with the Department of Defense so that it can live up to deadlines, and that is not all if a war were to start, wouldn’t the aggressors be keen on America’s navigation, communications, and intelligence gathering.
The Stratolaunch could replace the downed satellites, and Stratolaunch could operate from any secure military base, and save itself and other fixed rocket launch pads from sabotage and other attacks.
Not just bad weather, Stratolaunch can handle thinner air. Different weather changes affect different payloads and not getting affecting by weather means no rocket or satellite is affected, and that is a big move in the forward direction.
There are two possible things, the Stratolaunch is an aircraft which happens to be a top-secret asset hiding in plain sight, or it could be for civilian purposes which could become a government asset in troubled times for the government.
The conclusion is that by 2022, the Stratolaunch would become a 385-foot wingspan, 28 wheels, twin fuselage, six engines, style aircraft which is going to look as huge as a catamaran.
The speed of this aircraft would be 189mph, and it would attain a minimum height of 17,000 feet during its test time of 2. 5 hours. It can carry inside something to the order of 250 ton of rockets and rise to the height of 35,000 feet if it has to enter the lower orbit of the earth, into the stratosphere.
Only the Kennedy space center in the USA can handle rocket launches which means a strict wait time for scheduling the rocket flight.
The makers of the aircraft assert they saved money on making Stratolaunch by putting together parts from three 747s.
But, the future of Stratolaunch seems uncertain. Allen died, without announcing any new flights. The two ongoing projects such as sending SpaceX Falcon rockets into space is no longer a plan and the new partner of Stratolaunch in 2016 which is a company called Orbital ATK which makes Pegasus rockets have also discontinued the project.
Though the former Microsoft partner left behind funds for the Stratolaunch project, the project lay midway, and the aircraft would need further certifications from the federal aviation administration before the said aircraft carrier can carry rockets and satellites into space. Looks like Paul Allen really did something noteworthy.
Image courtesy by flickr.com, pexels.com, and pixabay.com
You may also like to read.
- Disruptive Technology and All Its Nuances.
- Uber Self-Driving Car Project Step towards Autonomous Vehicle.