Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has spent the last six years working on a giant aircraft capable of launching rockets to space. Today, his company Stratolaunch Systems literally rolled that plane out of its hangar in the Mojave Desert for the first time ever.
It’s called the Stratolaunch aircraft, and it’s massive. The plane has a 385-foot wingspan, which makes it the largest in the world by that metric. It weighs about 500,000 pounds dry, but that can swell to a maximum takeoff weight of 1.3 million pounds. Stratolaunch moves all that weight across the ground on 28 wheels, and eventually will carry its cargo through the air thanks to six 747 aircraft engines.
“Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be actively conducting ground and flight line testing at the Mojave Air and Space Port,” Floyd said in a statement. “This is a first-of-its-kind aircraft, so we’re going to be diligent throughout testing and continue to prioritize the safety of our pilots, crew and staff.”
While the Stratolaunch has the biggest wingspan, the Antonov An-225 is longer. When business mogul Howard Hughes’ “Spruce Goose” lumbered into the air in 1947, the H-4 had an enormous wingspan of 320 feet.
Allen, owner of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers and the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, has written about his desire to see more use of low Earth orbit without breaking the bank.
“With aircraft-like operations, our reusable launch platform will significantly reduce the long wait times traditionally experienced between the construction of a satellite and the opportunity to launch it into space,” he wrote last year.
Stratolaunch will take off from a runway. It will fly to the approximate cruising altitude of a commercial airliner before launching a launch vehicle. “As the launch vehicle rockets into orbit, Stratolaunch will fly back to a runway landing for reloading, refueling and reuse,” Allen says.
Photo Credits: Stratolaunch Systems