Allen: Stratolaunch Could Carry A Shuttle

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As the huge Stratolaunch aircraft prepares for its first flight at Mojave, company founder Paul Allen is thinking about using it not just to deliver satellites to space, but perhaps also to carry an all-new space shuttle. “I would love to see us have a full reusable system and have weekly, if not more often, airport-style, repeatable operations going,” Allen told The Washington Post, in an exclusive interview last summer. The shuttle, which would be called Black Ice, would be similar in size to NASA’s shuttle, according to the Post. It could be launched from anywhere there’s a runway long enough for the Stratolaunch, and would be capable of flying to the International Space Station and completing missions at least three days long.

There are no near-term plans to use Black Ice to transport astronauts, according to the Post, though that could be possible in the future. It could carry supplies to the ISS and also could deliver satellites to orbit. Using the Stratolaunch as a delivery vehicle would eliminate the need for rocket launches, Jean Floyd, Stratolaunch Systems CEO, told the Post. “You make your rocket a plane,” Floyd said. “So you have an airplane carrying a plane that’s fully reusable. You don’t throw anything away ever. Only fuel.” Washington Post reporter Christian Davenport, who conducted the interviews, is working on a book about the “new space race.”

Comments (2)

Just reading the story on Stratolaunch this morning, and while I wish them the best of luck, and I know you were just quoting the Washington Post (who was quoting Paul Allen), the math doesn't work if they are talking about launching a vehicle "similar in size to NASA's shuttle". The payload capability of Stratolaunch is about 500,000 lbs. A full Shuttle stack weighed about 4,400,000 lbs. A fully loaded Solid Rocket Booster weighed about 1,300,000 lbs, and you had two of them. So an Orbiter and fully fueled External Tank weighed about 1,800,000 lbs - that was to get a 230,000 lb Orbiter and payload to orbit from when the SRB's dropped it off at Mach 2.3 about 90,000'. The Stratolaunch can drop its 500,000 lb payload at something like 50,000' doing less than Mach 1.0 (let's be generous and say .90 ....which is probably high). There's simple no way it can carry 1.8 million pounds of airframe and fuel, much less drop it at launch conditions similar to where the SRB's left the Orbiter and ET.

I can totally believe them launching something like Dreamchaser, which is a much smaller, winged, reusable human-crewed shuttle vehicle, but of course, it would need engines and a tank of some sort that would not be re-used, so "totally reusable" still isn't in the cards.

Interesting to hear that Paul Allen is still pushing the project forward though. I walked through it a couple of years ago, and its an amazing airplane, and it should easily be able to launch reasonable sized objects to orbit.

Posted by: Paul Dye | March 9, 2018 11:27 AM    Report this comment

The shuttle NASA wanted, maybe. The one they got, no chance. They might just squeak into orbit a little lifting body vehicle like the Dream chaser Paul Dye mentions. But just how valuable is the ability to translate left and right of re-entry track? Like the STS program in general, that was imposed upon NASA for military reasons. Being able to bring home the service module-type components is good for reuse but does it all stack up? The now-traditional capsule and service module arrangement is the lightest way to do things and the Russian experience with mostly 1960's tech has been far safer and cheaper.

This sounds like giving a single stage to orbit vehicle a kick start. If the numbers can be made to work, great. An SSTO vehicle has always been something of a holy grail but the payload fraction was the issue. The HOTOL/Skylon project with hybrid engines has seemed like the best chance but maybe the stratolaunch can provide a similar improvement without requiring radically new tech?

I don't know the numbers and I'd be glad to be wrong but the gut says they're dreaming.

Posted by: Cosmo Adsett | March 11, 2018 5:05 AM    Report this comment

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