The Stratolaunch group was founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and its massive aircraft was completed by more than 300 engineers and fabricators. The plane weighs 500,000 lbs and is 385 ft in length, making it wider than a National Football League field by 25 ft and makes the double-bodied jet one with the largest wingspan of any aircraft in the world.
The plane just completed its taxi test on the runway, marking it the first time the aircraft moved under its own power using, 6 Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines. The stratolaunch plane can carry an additional 550,000 lbs with up to three rockets under the wing toward the center of the plane.
“This was another exciting milestone for our team and the program. Our crew was able to demonstrate ground directional control with nose gear steering, and our brake systems were exercised successfully on the runway. Our first low-speed taxi test is a very important step toward first flight. We are all proud and excited,” said George Bugg, aircraft program manager, Stratolaunch Systems Corp in a statement.
The aircraft is estimated to have a range of 2,000 nautical miles and aims to normalize access to low-Eart orbit (LEO) allowing more organizations to use satellite technology or explore space. The plane has the ability to deliver multiple payloads to multiple orbits at various places around the Earth.
“Opening up access to LEO will deliver many benefits,” said Allen. “For example, we could deploy more satellites that would enable a better understanding of why our weather patterns are changing and help increase agricultural productivity. And, we could study atmospheric chemistry more closely to better study and mitigate climate change. But none of this will happen as quickly without exploring new, flexible and streamlined ways to send satellites into orbit.”
The testing of the plane is going as per schedule and the company could be seen performing the initial launch as soon as 2019. This is something that is keeping the founder highly optimistic. “As always, space remains an unforgiving frontier, and the skies overhead will surely present obstacles and setbacks that must be overcome,” Allen noted. “But hard challenges demand fresh approaches, and I’m optimistic that Stratolaunch will yield transformative benefits – not only for scientists and space entrepreneurs but for all of us.”
You can see the taxi test on the runway in the video below: