Stratolaunch to buy Virgin Orbit’s Boeing 747 launch aircraft


Hypersonic aerospace company Stratolaunch is to buy Virgin Orbit’s modified Boeing 747 for US$17 million after the latter company went into liquidation as part of bankruptcy proceedings.

California, USA-based Stratolaunch is developing the Talon hypersonic flying testbed so military and commercial customers can trial hypersonic technology and systems faster. The reusable, rocket powered Talon-A is launched from a carrier aircraft whilst at an altitude of 35,000ft, similarly to the way Virgin Orbit’s now defunct satellite launch system worked.

Stratolaunch already uses Roc, the world’s largest aircraft by wingspan for this purpose. Earlier this month the company completed its first separation test of the Talon aircraft from Roc.

The company has received approval from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware to acquire the Boeing 747 and its related parts and equipment after being the sole bidder for the aircraft at US$17 million. The acquisition is expected to close by the end of.

Virgin Orbit’s 747, which the company called Cosmic Girl, will be repurposed as a launch platform for Talon and is expected to be fully operational in 2024.

Stratolaunch said the expansion of its air-launch will increase its in-flight test capacity and ability to support government and commercial customers globally.

Dr Zachary Krevor, president and CEO of Stratolaunch said, “The addition of this aircraft is a transformational milestone. With Roc remaining as our mainstay aircraft, an additional 747 brings expanded capabilities and flexibility to our platform. We will be able to increase both our flight test capacity and reach to become an even stronger partner to global customers.”

Stratolaunch expects its first hypersonic flight with its TA-1 expendable testbed in late summer 2023.

Krevor said, “The need for hypersonic testing has never been greater. We are making tremendous strides as we continue to enable the future of hypersonic testing. With the recent successful Talon-A separation test, we are excited to prepare for our first hypersonic flight of the TA-1 testbed.”

Following closing of the acquisition, the aircraft will undergo maintenance and modification to accommodate its new hypersonic test mission. Stratolaunch said that it plans to rename Cosmic Girl in the coming months.

Virgin Orbit filed for bankruptcy in April, shortly after a failed launch from Cornwall, UK.

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Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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