Stratolaunch Systems, a Paul G. Allen project, is developing an air-launch system that will revolutionize space transportation by providing orbital access to space at lower costs, with greater safety and more flexibility. Delivering payloads in the 10,000lbm class [13,500 pounds into low earth orbit, the system allows for maximum operational flexibility and payload delivery from several possible operational sites, while minimizing mission constraints such as range availability and weather.
The air-launch system is made up of four primary elements: a carrier aircraft, a multi-stage booster, a mating and integration system, and an orbital payload. Initial efforts will focus on unmanned payloads; however, human flights will follow as safety, reliability, and operability are demonstrated.
The carrier aircraft, built by Scaled Composites, weighs more than 1.2 million pounds and has a wingspan of 385 feet – greater than the length of a football field. Using six 747 engines, the carrier aircraft will be the largest aircraft ever constructed. The air-launch system requires a takeoff and landing runway that is, at minimum, 12,000 feet long. The carrier aircraft can fly over 1,300 nautical miles to reach an optimal launch point.
SpaceX’s multi-stage booster is derived from the company’s Falcon 9 rocket. At approximately 120 feet long, the booster is designed to loft the payload into low earth orbit. After release of the booster from the aircraft at approximately 30,000 feet, the first stage engines ignite and the spacecraft begins its journey into space. After the first stage burn and a short coast period, the second stage ignites and the orbital payload proceeds to its planned mission. The booster’s health and status during flight is monitored from the carrier aircraft and on the ground.
Mating and Integration System
Built by Dynetics, the mating and integration system (MIS) provides the single interface between the carrier aircraft and the booster. The MIS includes all systems required for the booster to interface with the carrier aircraft, including mechanical, electrical, thermal, fluids, and gases. The MIS is designed to safely and securely carry a booster weighing up to roughly 500,000 pounds. The MIS will secure the booster to the carrier aircraft, from taxiing to flight maneuvers to release of booster. In the case of a mission abort, the MIS will keep the booster secure during return to base and landing.
Spacex and Scaled Composite are known, but the third partner is Dynetics.
Dynetics is responsible for the mating and integration system and overall technical integration of the Air Launch System. To lead and accomplish this program, Dynetics has assembled a world class staff of space launch, propulsion, and aircraft expertise including David King, former Shuttle launch director and Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) director; Steve Cook, former Ares Launch Vehicle program manager; Jim Halsell, former US Air Force test pilot, SR-71, and Shuttle pilot and commander; and Mark Fisher, former MSFC liquid engines program manager.
Extensive experience in large air-dropped payloads, including leading the development, integration, and flight of the world’s largest precision-guided air dropped munition, the Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) and support to the follow-on program, the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) has provided Dynetics with the expertise to successfully perform the Air Launch Systems program.
Dynetics has extensive aerospace systems integration and analysis experience from programs such as our commercial satellite, FASTSAT; a small launch system for the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, the MultiPurpose Nano Missile System (MNMS); and numerous complex missile and aviation defense integration projects.
Work on the Air Launch System will be accomplished in Dynetics’ state-of-the-art, 226,500 square foot prototyping center in Huntsville, Alabama – making the company a regional leader in hardware and software design, development, and test.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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