What an amazing journey this aircraft has had.
The F-104, designed just after the first jet-vs-jet air combat in The Korean War, was created to fly as fast as possible, hurtling past all the previous speed records. Less than a decade after test pilot Chuck Yeager first broke the speed of sound, it became the first jet to fly more than twice the speed of sound.
On top of a military career which lasted nearly 50 years, the F-104 found itself serving as an experimental testbed – a rocket-powered spacecraft stand-in that allowed pilots to practice the kind of rocket-thrust manoeuvring astronauts would use to control a spacecraft.
Now, some 60 years after the prototype first flew, the F-104 has found another role – as the launch vehicle for a new generation of tiny satellites.
Cubecab plans to launch very small satellites – known as cubesats – using a rocket that weighs a similar amount. It’s much smaller, and therefore cheaper, than any other launch method currently available.
How will CubeCab launch these tiny satellites? Simple – they’ll use Starfighters.
Cubecab will strap its lightweight rockets, each carrying a satellite weighing around 10kg, on to the kind of underwing ‘pylons’ usually used to fire missiles. And Starfighters Inc, a Florida-based company which still flies a handful of F-104s, will take their pint-sized payloads up to the edge of the stratosphere and fire them into orbit.