Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’ space launch company will now compete with space entrepreneurs and industry giants by launching satellites into orbit from the world’s biggest aeroplane. The plane has a wing span bigger than an entire football field. The carrier plane by the firm called ‘Stratolaunch’ came out of its hangar today on May 31, and into public view at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California on Wednesday to undergo fueling tests. The ‘Stratolaunch’ is designed to carry space rockets to high altitude, where they’re then launched into orbit.
The giant plane is designed to launch rockets into orbit from an altitude of around 30,000 feet. It has a wingspan of 385 feet (117 m), a length of 238 feet (72 m) and a tail height of 50 feet (15 m). According to Stratolaunch Systems Corporation, the plane uses six Boeing 747 engines built by Pratt & Whitney and has a maximum payload capacity of approximately 550,000 lbs.
Jean Floyd, Chief Executive Officer of Stratolaunch Systems, wrote in a statement Wednesday that the fuel testing “marks a historic step in our work to achieve Paul G. Allen’s vision of normalising access to low Earth orbit.” Earlier, Stratolaunch had announced that it will initially launch a single Orbital ATK Pegasus XL vehicle with the capability to launch up to three Pegasus vehicles in a single sortie mission. This means the company intends that the plane could ultimately launch up to 3 satellite rockets in one flight.
Jean Floyd said that over the coming weeks and months, the company will be actively conducting ground and flight line testing at the Mojave Air and Space Port. He added that ‘this is a first-of-its-kind aircraft, so we’re going to be diligent throughout testing’ and continue to prioritise the safety of the pilots, crew and staff.
The company has informed that Stratolaunch is on track to perform its first launch demonstration in early 2019.