What is Stratolaunch? – The world’s biggest airplane
- Stratolaunch is the world’s largest aeroplane by wingspan
- Its owner is hoping it will one day carry rockets into the atmosphere, before blasting them into space
- The Stratolaunch Company is the brainchild of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen
- Stratolaunch will compete against Elon Musk’s Space X and Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit
A few hours ago the largest aeroplane ever created – with a wingspan of 117-metres – took off for the very first time in the Mojave Desert.
The aircraft – known as Stratolaunch – has been in development for more than eight years. However, by 2022 the company hopes to use the twin-fuselage ‘catamaran-style’ aeroplane to launch satellite rockets into space.
Speaking at the launch, Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd was boisterous. "All of you have been very patient and very tolerant over the years waiting for us to get this big bird off the ground, and we finally did it."
During its maiden flight, Stratolaunch hit speeds of 304-kph and a height of 17,000-feet. After the 150-minute test flight, it safely touched down at the Mojave Air and Space Port.
The general point of Stratolaunch is that it hopes to one day carry 250-tonne rockets into the air, at the height of 35,000-feet. Once at cruising altitude, the rocket’s engines will ignite firing it and its cargo into space.
Currently, there are only a few facilities on Earth that can handle these types of rocket launches, but there are a great many airports. Stratolaunch is hoping that will cut down launch times and costs, giving it the competitive edge against companies such as Space X and Blue Origin.
The aeroplane itself is powered by six Pratt & Whitney engines and a whopping 28-wheel landing gear – which was originally designed for Boeing 747s. The Stratolaunch vehicle itself was put together by repurposing three 747s.
But Stratolaunch is not without its own competitors, namely Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit. Building on the success of Virgin Galactic – which aims to take passengers into space shortly – Orbit hopes to use a similar design of a twin-hull aeroplane to launch satellites into space. It hopes to begin testing its own modified 747 design late this year.