On April 13, 2019, Stratolaunch System Corporation has successfully completed the maiden flight of the world’s largest all-composite aircraft, the Stratolaunch. The Stratolaunch aircraft enables convenient, reliable, and affordable access to space in a manner similar to that of any other aircraft. The aircraft is a mobile launch platform, the central reinforce wing of which, can support multiple launch vehicles weighing up to 500,000 pounds. The aircraft is designed with dual fuselage and has a 385-feet wingspan, with the tail of the aircraft 50 feet above the ground.
In its maiden flight, the twin-fuselage aircraft flew for more than two and a half hours over the Mojave Desert in Southern California, attaining an altitude of 17,000 feet and flying at a speed of more than 180 miles per hour. All the initial aircraft test exercises, which included various flight control maneuvers to check the speed and flight control systems, were conducted. The tests included pushovers & pull ups, roll doublets, steady heading side slips, and yawing maneuvers. The aircraft also conducted a simulated landing exercise at a maximum altitude of 15,000 feet above sea level
This new aircraft by Stratolaunch System Corporation will significantly impact the space industry. The aircraft is capable of launching more than one rockets and satellites into outer space on a single flight. The all-composite structure of the aircraft helps reduce the overall weight and thus lowers fuel consumption. The aircraft is expected to enable convenient and affordable air-launch of rockets and satellites into space.
The demand for satellites is increasing for both, commercial as well as military applications. The Stratolaunch aircraft could provide a significant reduction in the cost of space launch services and lead to a major trend in the space launch services market in the coming years.
IMPACT ON THE MARKET
The space launch services market was valued at USD 8.67 billion in 2016 and is projected to reach USD 27.18 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of 15.01% during the forecast period from 2017 to 2025. Major players such as Antrix, Boeing, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and others are focusing on the improvisation and sophistication of current models. Most companies are expected to try to develop similar capabilities or acquire companies in this supply chain.
IMPACT ON COMPETITORS
In conventional space launch, various factors, such as clearance from the government for specific date and time, proximity to the equator, engine propulsion test for the satellite launch vehicle, and launch site safety and security, among others, are required to be considered. The new Stratolaunch aircraft will require less man-power and fuel to launch rockets into orbit. This will reduce the overall cost for space launch which is otherwise significant in conventional space launch services. The company signed a contract on October 6, 2016, with Northrop Grumman to launch its Pegasus XL rocket into space.
Players in the space industry have undertaken efforts to reduce the cost of space launch services. Companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin have successfully developed reusable rockets for the same. Stratolaunch has also undertaken efforts in the same direction by developing composite space launch aircraft that will aid in the launch of large spacecraft and satellites into orbit at minimum launching costs. These efforts are expected to result in the growth of the space launch services market in the coming years.