Stratolaunch Systems Corporation, the space company founded by late billionaire and Microsoft Corp co-founder Paul Allen, is closing operations, cutting short ambitious plans to challenge traditional aerospace companies in a new “space race,” four people familiar with the matter said on Friday.
The company, a unit of Allen’s privately held investment vehicle Vulcan Inc, had been developing a portfolio of launch vehicles including the world’s largest airplane by wingspan to launch satellites and eventually humans into space.
Allen, who founded Seattle-based Stratolaunch in 2011, died at age 65 in October. Vulcan has been exploring a possible sale of Stratolaunch’s assets and intellectual property, according to one of the four sources and also a fifth person.
A representative of Stratolaunch Systems Corp initially said the company did not “have any news or announcements to share at this time.” Later, she said by phone: “Stratolaunch remains operational” while declining further comment.
Efforts to reach Vulcan Inc for comment were not successful.
The four persons familiar with the matter all spoke on condition of anonymity, as did the fifth source, citing the confidential nature of the matter.
A spokesman for Northrop Grumman Corp, which owns Scaled Composites, the main contractor for Stratolaunch’s carrier plane, declined to discuss the company’s operations. Stratolaunch aimed to launch Northrop’s small-payload Pegasus from Stratolaunch’s carrier plane in 2020.
Allen’s Stratolaunch had been compared to billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic - which is developing a similar high-altitude launch system - Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX. They all seek to cash in on growing demand for satellite launch services and, eventually, space travel, a market long dominated by industry stalwarts such as United Launch Alliance - a partnership between Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp.