Part of what makes space travel so dramatic is the fire-ball inducing, pocketbook-expanding rocket launch from a platform on Earth, which thrusts the actual ship into orbit. But what if you took those giant, expendable rockets out of the equation? That’s what Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch company is hoping to do, and now they're showing off a new array of small(er) rocket-powered vehicles that could potentially make that happen.
Stratolaunch Systems Corporation was launched in 2011 by the Microsoft co-founder to utilize a high-altitude launch pad to provide “convenient, affordable, routine, airline-style access to space,” according to the company’s press release last week, which shows off its new launch vehicles for such endeavors. The vehicles, which will hitch a ride to 35,000 feet attached to the world’s biggest airplane (equipped with a 385-foot wingspan), are expected to soar into space for regular service beginning in 2020.
Since these vehicles won’t have to battle the drag of a thick lower atmosphere, they won’t need to burn as much fuel to get into orbit. With their goal being to make launching a satellite into space “as easy as booking an airline flight,” according to CEO Jean Floyd, Stratolaunch revealed their updated launch offering with key details for each vehicle.
The Pegasus, the launch vehicle, has already been used in 35 successful flights, and can carry a payload of 370 kg. The Medium Launch Vehicle, the MLV, is an in-development medium-class air-launch ship “optimized for short satellite integration timelines,” which can carry a 3,400 kg. payload and is expected to take its first flight in 2022. The Medium Launch Vehicle – Heavy is still in early development but designed for heavier payloads up to 6,000 kg.
And then there’s the Space Plane, still in the design-study phase, but imagined as a fully reusable transport system for a medium-class payload or crew “that enables advanced in-orbit capabilities and cargo return.” So, theoretically, you’ll just take a routine flight to 35,000 feet aboard the Pegasus, hop on the Space Plane, and zoom, you’re off to space. What a world!
Stratolaunch expects to drop further details about their plans before the end of the year, so start saving up now to secure your spot.
(via How Stuff Works)