Is Pegasus Nearing its Last Ride?

Flying off into the Sunset?  Credit NASA

Flying off into the Sunset?
Credit NASA

Following a one day delay due to a power outage in the area around Vandenberg AFB.  Orbital Sciences is preparing to launch  NASA’s IRIS satellite aboard the air launched Pegasus XL booster.  IRIS, which stands for Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, is designed to study the behavior of a little understood region of the sun’s atmosphere, the “interface”  region the surface and the upper atmosphere. 

The launch into polar orbit is scheduled at 7:27 p.m. PDT, in the middle of a 5 minute window and will be covered on NASA TV beginning at 6 pm. PDT. 

You might want to watch. This evening’s launch may well be the last ride for the Pegasus booster, whose costs have climbed to stratospheric levels as demand has fallen to basically zero.  The cost to launch IRIS is approximately $40 million,  slightly up from the most recent $36 million for NuSTAR. A future launch opportunity for Pegasus fell by the wayside when NASA cancelled the GEMS mission last year due to cost overruns.

The potential demise of the Pegasus appears to be something of an abberation, particularly considering what appears to be a bright future for air launched boosters in general.   There are surprising number of projects,  across a broad spectrum of  size ranges currently underway,  including  Virgin Galactic’s Launcher One,  Swiss Space Systems SOAR, a small delivery vehicle for XCOR’s Lynx and of  course the Stratolaunch /OSC project for a much larger, medium class booster reportedly called Pegasus 2.  


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