Is the Stratolaunch plane able to land with the rocket still attached, if a malfunction is detected – and the plane has to return without having launched its load?

Is there a known emergency scenario for the already flying Stargazer? (Stargazer is the Lockheed L-1011 that Pegasus launches from today)

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Stargazer can definitely land with the rocket still attached. In fact Pegasus is usually loaded to Stargazer (with or without payload) at Vandenberg and then ferried to its actual launch site (CCAFS, Wallops, Kwaj, etc.) Stargazer is also able to abort a launch and return to the landing strip if there is anything wrong with the system. I believe this has happened before, but would have to go digging through historical articles to find information on what mission(s) it happened on.

I expect Strato would be the same. We have a tendency to discover off-nominal readings in a rocket just before launch. It would be a pity if every time that happened, the rocket and its payload had to be ditched.

  • Makes sense, if it can take off with a fully loaded rocket on board it should be able to land. – GdD Sep 20 at 16:11
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    That reasoning is actually invalid. For example, when airliners dump fuel or circle around to burn off fuel, that is precisely because they can not land with the same weight they can take off. The maximum takeoff weight is usually significantly higher than the maximum landing weight. Note: I am not saying that this is true for Stargazer and/or Stratolaunch, I just want to point out that your reasoning "They can take off, therefore they must be able to land" may not be valid. – Jörg W Mittag Sep 20 at 16:35
  • I agree with @JörgWMittag - just because it can take off doesn't mean it can land with it. In the case of Pegasus, and I'm assuming Strato, the reason is much more powerful - I have a $$$M satellite hanging from the belly. I'm not going to ditch unless it is an absolute need. – Carlos N Sep 20 at 17:39
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    @reirab I see - my confusion was because Jorg did not reply to the comment. – Tim Sep 20 at 21:02
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    @Peter - I would expect liquids would make a difference. But I have never looked into it. Virgin is also using a liquid. Business logic dictates, however, that you better figure how to land with a full rocket. You can't just dump a cargo of expensive spice at the first sight of an Imperial cruiser. – Carlos N Sep 26 at 19:40

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