Stratolaunch to resume test flights

Stratolaunch vice president for government relations and business development, Mark Bitterman, announced in a March 4 presentation in Colorado that the company plans to resume test flights of the aircraft in September 2020.

Bitterman was speaking at the Next-Generational Suborbital Research Conference in Broomfield, Colo.

The news comes as the company refocuses from a launch services company to a provider of high-speed flight test services.

“We are working to get certified by the FAA, so beginning in September we’ll fly at least once a month,” Bitterman said. Those tests would last for about eight months in order to get the plane certified by the FAA.

The aircraft’s one and only flight was in April 2019, when it made its maiden test flight from the Mojave Air and Space Port. That initial flight lasted two and a half hours. The company said he flight went well but made no announcement about future plans.

Even as Stratolaunch made its first flight, the future of the company was uncertain. Its founder, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, had passed away the in late 2018, and three months later the company stopped work on development of launch vehicles that could be flown on the plane.

In October 2019, the company announced that ownership had been transitioned from Vulcan, Allen’s holding company to an at-the-time unknown organization. It was later reported that Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity fund in New York, was the new owner.

Stratolaunch, Bitterman said, no longer calls itself a launch company. “We considered ourselves a space launch company under the previous Stratolaunch,” he said. “We are something very different now.”

“Our business plan is built around the operation of a fleet of vehicles with both government and industry customers,” he said. “What we’re looking at essentially are customizable, reusable and affordable rocket-powered testbed vehicles, and associated flight services.”

No information was forthcoming on new designs, but Bitterman did say that development would be funded in-house. “We are still looking for partnerships, but we are fully funded to develop our new vehicles,” he said.

According to Bitterman, the Stratolaunch now employs 115 people – that’s up from the 87 reported at the end of 2019. Additionally, he said that Jean Floyd, CEO, will be relocating from Seattle to Mojave.

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