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The Orbital "Stargazer" Steals the Show

Short Flights


Ed Dunlap, Operations Manager for Orbital Sciences L-1011 aircraft

Orbital Sciences 'Stargazer' L-1011 launch aircraft was the star of the show at the Aerospace in California Plane Crazy Saturday event held by the Mojave Transportation Museum Foundation on August 16, 2014. This is the last flying L-1011 TriStar in the world and according to officials at Orbital, the plan is to keep her flying until 2020.

Special thanks to Ed Dunlap and the Orbital crew for positioning the TriStar on the ramp and setting up informative displays complete with videos of rocket launches! He is shown below with a model of the Pegasus rocket.

"Stargazer" is an L-1011 commercial transport aircraft, formerly with Air Canada, modified to serve as the launch platform for Orbital's air-launched Pegasus rocket as well as a platform for airborne research projects.

Lockheed Aircraft Company manufactured 250 L-1011 TriStars in Palmdale, CA from 1968 to 1984.

This L-1011 has been used to launch 36 Pegasus rockets as well as the captive carry flights of the X-34 reusable launch vehicle demonstrator.

The three-stage Pegasus is used to deploy small satellites weighing up to 1,000 pounds into low-Earth orbit. Pegasus is carried aloft by the 'Stargazer' L-1011 aircraft to approximately 40,000 feet over open ocean, where it is released and free-falls five seconds before igniting its first stage rocket motor. With its unique delta-shaped wing, Pegasus typically delivers satellites into low-Earth orbit in a little over 10 minutes.

This patented air-launch system provides customers with unparalleled flexibility to operate from virtually anywhere on Earth with minimal ground support requirements. Pegasus launches have been conducted from six separate sites in the U.S., Europe and the Marshall Islands. The first time a space launch vehicle has demonstrated such operational flexibility.

Sparking interest in flying and the aerospace industry is one of MTM's objectives with the monthly 'historic aircraft display day' event at Mojave Air & Spaceport. A Brownie Troop from Lancaster come out to view the giant TriStar.

Bill Deaver captured this photo (right) showing all of the Brownies with the huge wide-body aircraft.

You can clearly see where the Pegasus rockets attaches under the fuselage of the L-1011.

The Lockheed L-1011 has an unusual double keel structure that the vertical fin of the Pegasus XL fits between.  The fin goes in the space formerly occupied by the lower deck galley.  The rest of the vehicle is carried entirely below the fuselage of the Stargazer. 

Interesting how this aircraft received the name 'Stargazer.' It is a tribute to the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation' fictional starship, the USS Stargazer.

Orbital Sciences L-1011 launch aircraft for Pegasus rockets

Other exciting space programs are underway with Orbital Sciences in other parts of the United States. The Antares rocket with the Cygnus spacecraft is launched from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. This is part of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. Orbital will perform eight cargo missions to the ISS, two of which have been accomplished. The maiden flight of Cygnus spacecraft was completed Sept. 2013. The cargo included student experiments, food and clothing.

Orbital Sciences is a 30-year-old firm and is one of two space companies in Southern California receiving investments from NASA.

Orbital also has a next generation version of the Pegasus XL rocket on the drawing board too and will partner with StratoLaunch at Mojave Air & Spaceport!

See you on our next flight!

The next Plane Crazy Saturday at Mojave Air & Spaceport will be held on September 20, 2014 from 10-2 p.m. A special Plane Crazy Saturday Two will be at the California City Airport on October 4 from 10-2 p.m.


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