Christian Davenport for The Washington Post on Stratolaunch and its future projects:
In exclusive interviews last summer, Allen and Jean Floyd, Stratolaunch System's chief executive, laid out the company’s plans for the giant plane, providing an answer to why anyone would want to build an aircraft that has 28 wheels, six 747 jet engines and a wingspan longer than a football field.
The Black Ice space plane — should it be built — would be about as big as the former space shuttle developed by NASA and capable of staying up for at least three days. It could be launched from virtually anywhere in the world, as long as the runway could accommodate Stratolaunch’s size. And it would be capable of flying to the International Space Station, taking satellites and experiments to orbit, and maybe one day even people — though there are no plans for that in the near-term.
And then it would land back on the runway, ready to fly again.
For now, the company is focused on the maiden flight of Stratolaunch, which could come later this year. Then it would decide whether to pursue Black Ice.
We’ll see if anything comes of this, and “last summer” is not an insignificant amount of time in the past, but it’s at least an intriguing project to think about and consider.
I’d hate to see Stratolaunch repeat some mistakes from Shuttle with Black Ice, though. Being stuck in LEO isn’t useful, and transfer stages are non-trivial. Large wings are useless in orbit and tough from a thermal protection standpoint. I’d love to see something reminiscent of the low cross-range Space Shuttle concepts, before the US Air Force polar orbit-once-around requirement made its way into the Shuttle program and brought with it a big delta wing.
All in all, I’m still pretty skeptical of Stratolaunch. If and when we see plans for something other than a Pegasus XL or three hanging under that giant wing, I’ll reconsider. Until then, Stratolaunch seems like a solution in search of a problem.