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Stratolaunch hypersonic testbed
Stratolaunch’s swept-wing hypersonic testbed would be propelled by a liquid-fueled rocket engine. (Stratolaunch Illustration)

It’s been three months since ownership of the Stratolaunch space venture was transferred from the late Seattle billionaire Paul Allen’s estate to a private equity firm, but the new owners say they’re still pursuing one of the old owner’s dreams: hypersonic flight.

  • Stratolaunch’s plans to build and test hypersonic air vehicles were laid out 16 months ago at a Florida conference focusing on space planes and hypersonic systems. Hypersonic vehicles, which travel at least five times the speed of sound, are considered one of the biggest frontiers for weapons development. China and Russia are working to develop hypersonic weapons that could theoretically elude U.S. defenses.
  • Stratolaunch still has offices in Seattle, and it’s still developing the world’s biggest airplane in California. In the past, the company has highlighted the plane’s capabilities as a flying launch pad for rockets heading to orbit. But in the wake of Allen’s death in 2018 and last October’s transfer of ownership, there’s been increasing speculation that Stratolaunch would put more emphasis on hypersonic vehicle development and testing for military purposes.
  • Although Stratolaunch has been mostly mum about its plans going forward, today it responded to news reports reviewing its previous hypersonic plans. “Stratolaunch is exploring the development of aerospace vehicles and technologies, including the need for reliable, routine access to space. This exploration includes the need to significantly advance the nation’s ability to design and operate hypersonic vehicles,” company spokesman Art Pettigrue said in a statement emailed to GeekWire.
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