Air-launched spacecraft

Pegasus XL under L-1011 "Stargazer"

Pegasus XL under L-1011 “Stargazer”

I’ve been looking at the launch schedule, which covers public and international spacecraft launches, and noticed the December 12 launch of a Pegasus XL.

Pegasus XL is a rocket, of course, and it’s taking off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, but it is doing so from the underside of a Lockheed L-1011 airplane named Stargazer. They’ve been doing this particular spacecraft model since 1990, first with other aircraft, and then with the L-1011 a few years later.

It says something about all the work going on in space that we don’t notice, partly because it was just unmanned satellites, but also because it had become more-or-less routine.

The Stargazer boost aircraft is named after the USS Stargazer, which was Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s previous ship in the Star Trek universe. No kidding. It got the name informally at first, and then it stuck. Another interesting thing about Stargazer is that the company flying it bought it used.

Update: December 15, 2016

After the initial December 12 launch attempt was scrubbed, they had a successful launch today, December 15th: