Stratolaunch mysteriously gets new owner

HOUSTON – Stratolaunch, the initiative of the late Paul Allen to develop an air exposure system, has "transferred" ownership, but the company does not disclose who the new owner is.

In a brief statement Oct. 11, Stratolaunch said it "exceeded ownership and continues its regular operations." The company had been owned by Vulcan Inc., the holding company of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, since it was founded in 2011.

The announcement did not specify who the new owner is or the terms of the transaction. A Stratolaunch spokeswoman told SpaceNews that the company "does not share any details about the new ownership or details of the transaction at this time."

The company will continue to develop a launch service of some kind. "Our short-term vehicle launch strategy focuses on providing customizable, reusable and affordable rocket-powered testbed vehicles and associated flight services," it states. The company will also handle in-house flight operations, instead of using Scaled Composites, which developed the aircraft and administered the original test flight program.

The future of Stratolaunch had been in question since Allen's death a year ago. At the time of his death, Vulcan CEO Bill Hilf said no changes were imminent in any of the company's portfolio companies.

In January, however, the company announced that they were leaving the development of their own launch vehicle. The company had made significant progress on an engine called the PGA, following the initials of Paul G. Allen, who used liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen fuel and could produce 200,000 kilos of power. This engine was to be used in a family of launch cars to be lifted off the company's giant aircraft.

Instead, Stratolaunch said it would use Pegasus XL rockets from Northrop Grumman, with the ability to launch as three small rockets on a single flight. The company continued to develop the aircraft, which made its first and so far only flight on April 1[ads1]3.

In a brief media briefing just after the two-and-a-half hour flight, the company's officials revealed no details of the future's plans and took no questions from reporters. The company made no public statements after the flight before the announcement of the new ownership, and a number of executives left the company in the intervening months.

While the company kept a low profile and some in the industry speculated that the company could be liquidated, there were signs of life. Observers at the Mojave aviation and aerospace port noticed an uptick in activity at Stratolaunch's giant hangar there, such as an increase in the number of cars parked there. The company's website lists 11 positions, including for a test pilot and a senior test pilot, in accordance with the statement that it will take over flight test operations.

The descriptions for some of these job openings suggest that Stratolaunch may be more interested in supporting technology development work rather than launching services as stated in the ownership announcement. "Stratolaunch is developing an air launch platform to contribute to high-speed research and development," describes the descriptions for several positions. "The goal of Stratolaunch is to use the air launch platform to enable technologies that are not otherwise available."

"Stratolaunch has the potential to create technology development opportunities for commercial, philanthropic and governmental organizations to collect rich and actionable data and drive advances in science, research and technology," the descriptions say.

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