Hey, everyone. Elon now doesn’t want to buy Twitter because he can’t count his bots. One would think that a guy like him would let robots talk.
The usual look
Stratolaunch was based on dreams. Paul Allen, an indescribably wealthy co-founder of Microsoft, grew up captive to space exploration, absorbing books such as the far-sighted tomes of scientist Willie Leigh. In the early 2000s, Allen funded a project known as Spaceship One, which won the X-Prize as the first private enterprise to send a man into space. He later licensed the technology to Virgin Galactic, which built its own vehicle to send Richard Branson into suborbital ecstasy. Meanwhile, Allen, disappointed, in his opinion, the timidity of NASA, decided to return to the space business. He hired legendary aircraft technician Bert Rutan to develop a giant carrier that could launch satellites and other spacecraft beyond the sky. With its double fuselages and 385-foot wingspan, the Stratolaunch aircraft, later named the Roc, was itself an exciting spectacle, doubly thanks to its mission to lift its cargo into the sky. In 2018, I traveled to the Mahava Desert to see for myself the world’s largest aircraft.
But when Allen died in November 2018, after a third attack of lymphoma that plagued him for decades, his cosmic dream also died. While Stratolaunch is still alive, it has no structures to cross the Pocket Line. It is now a ruthless defense contractor specializing in what the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs has called a “new and destabilizing strategic weapon”: hypersonic technology that moves programmed aircraft at Mach 5 and above.
Here’s how it happened. After his death, the holding company of Elena Vulcan, which included Stratolaunch, as well as sports teams and the AI think tank, passed to his sister Jody. Clearly, she had no desire to keep the space enterprise afloat, offering Stratolaunch buyers $ 400 million, much less than her brother’s investment. It was unclear whether there would be contenders for the largest aircraft in the world. Richard Branson, who chronically underestimates Allen’s contribution to his own space company, jokingly offered a dollar.
But there is one mysterious buyer: Cerberus, a private investment company named after the mythical three-headed dog that guards the gates of hell. When Vulcan made the sale in October 2019, Stratolaunch not only withheld the purchase amount, but also who bought it; Journalists discovered the identity through SEC reports a few months later. Perhaps it was because Cerberus, run by co-founder Steven Feinberg, has some baggage. He once tried to create a personal weapon called the Freedom Group, capturing arms manufacturers such as Remington and Bushmaster. In 2012, Cerberus tried to get rid of the group after a mass murderer used a Bushmaster to kill 20 schoolchildren and six teachers in Sandy Hook; it eventually transferred assets to its Remington company, which declared bankruptcy in 2018. In addition to everything, Feinberg joked that if any of his employees had a photo in the newspaper, “We will do more than fire this man, we will kill him.”
Following the purchase of Stratolaunch in late 2019, the private investment company increased its workforce from 13 employees to more than 250 and refocused the company’s mission on hypersonic cars. They were seen as potential payloads in the Helen era, but they were secondary to satellite launches and a possible manned spacecraft called the Black Ice. The use of a carrier vehicle for hypersonic ships has its advantages; Roc can launch its rocket cargo over the ocean, where a devastating sound shock would not be so destructive. Feinberg himself is well versed in the defense establishment and served under Donald Trump as head of the Presidential Intelligence Advisory Board. In December 2021, Stratolaunch was awarded a contract with the Missile Defense Agency for a feasibility study of how the United States could take countermeasures against hypersonic attacks. Stratolaunch is building its own hypersonic missiles codenamed Talon. The first is designed for a one-time launch – after the test it will sink into the ocean. The second is a reusable hypersonic machine that will retain key data after testing. At the moment, the goal is defensive to mimic the behavior of potential attacking missiles. But Stratolaunch does not rule out a future role in creating offensive hypersonic weapons.