Space & Innovation

Why Don't We Launch More Rockets From Airplanes?

NASA recently launched a spacecraft horizontally from an airplane, rather than vertically from the ground. Should we launch more like this?

Rockets go up, traditionally, and not sideways – although backyard bottle rockets on the Fourth of July often ignore this tradition. When it comes to big-boy rockets, like the ones that go into orbit, we almost always launch them from the ground. But actually, it's entirely possible to launch orbital rockets sideways from aircraft at high altitude. In fact, NASA just air-launched its Orbital ATK Pegasus XL rocket this way.

So why don't we launch more rockets in this fashion? Well, the air-launch technique has its advantages. Pilots can fly up and over any bad weather, and the thinner air at high altitudes makes for reduced friction. But horizontal launches can be more expensive and they can't carry as much weight. Trace Dominguez breaks down the rocket science in today's DNews report.

Read More:

NPR: NASA Rocket Deploys 'Satellite Constellation' After Unique Air-Launch

NASA: NASA Armstrong Fact Sheet: X-15 Hypersonic Research Program

Orbital ATK: Pegasus