SEATTLE (Reuters) – Microsoft's co-founder billionaire space billionaire Paul Allen has unveiled details of mid-range rockets and a reusable spacecraft on Monday that will introduce more competition into the lucrative launch market.
A new family of launchers, including an air launch system, mid-range launchers, and a reusable spacecraft, are featured in this rendering image, published by Seattle-based billionaire Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen's space company Stratolaunch Systems Corp. , Washington, USA, August 20, 201
With its missiles, Allen's Stratolaunch Systems Corp is seeking to increase demand for vessels that can use satellites in the coming years orbit. But its vehicles will have to compete domestically with other space entrepreneurs and industry leaders such as Elon Musk's SpaceX and United Launch Alliance – a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Seattle-based Stratolaunch, founded by Allen in 2011, said in a press release that its launch vehicles would make satellite deployment "as easy as booking a flight," even though the first missile launch is scheduled for 2020 at the earliest it builds to use the rockets, is still in the test before the flight.
Instead of launching from a launch pad, Stratolaunch's rockets will land at high altitude beneath the company's six-engine double-hull aircraft – the largest ever built from the wingspan.
This launch method is similar to that developed by billionaire Richard Branson Virgin Galactic.
The Stratolaunch aircraft is designed to carry a rocket and payload of up to 550,000 pounds (250,000 kg), equal to the performance of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the ground.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
According to Teal Group space analyst Marco Caceres, about 800 small satellites will be launched each year from about 2020 onwards. This is more than twice the annual average of the last decade.
Stratolaunch announced plans for the plane years ago with the aim of flying Northrop Grumman Corp.'s Pegasus rocket in 2020, and some in the aerospace industry expected stratolaunch to eventually make its own rockets after partnerships with other manufacturers to drop.
Stratolaunch said its new launcher with a carrying capacity of about 3,400 kg would fly as early as 2022. She said that she was in the early stages of developing a variant with a payload capacity of 6,000 kg. It did not mention any launch customers and declined to say how much it would cost to develop their spacecraft.
Stratolaunch acknowledged that it designed a reusable spacecraft to transport cargo to and from the Earth, and a successor variant could carry humans.
Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Edited by Cynthia Osterman