When the huge, twin-fuselage purpose-built mothership Stratolaunch made its “first flight” last week, it wasn’t, as we all know, the aircraft’s first flight. But in some ways, it might just as well have been, because as the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia once sang, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” The thing Garcia left out was, it’s likely to get even stranger.
Stratolaunch, technically the Stratolaunch Model 351, presently nicknamed Roc, was designed by Scaled Composites starting in 2011. The plan for it was to carry rockets to altitude to air launch them for paying customers. Stratolaunch first flew in May of 2019, a year after the death, in 2018, of company founder Paul Allen. Shortly after that first flight, the company went up for sale and, surprising the industry experts, was rather quickly purchased by Cerebus Capital Management.
Operations started up again, but the company announced that it would change its focus, and the focus of its giant aircraft, from launching air launch rockets to launching a new family of orbital vehicles, called Talon-Z. Roc could carry as many as three up to 35,000 for launch. It’s also reportedly developing a larger orbital vehicle that can carry larger payloads and humans, too, into orbit.
The video is undeniably cool, but this is not the first flight of Stratolaunch, just the first flight under new management and with a new mission on the horizon.