MOJAVE DESERT, CA – On April 13, 2019 the world’s largest aircraft by wingspan, completed its successful maiden flight over the Mojave Desert in California. The Stratolaunch is an impressive twin-fuselage plane with 6 engines and a wingspan of 117m (384ft), larger than the length of an American football field. The monster plane is designed to make propelling rockets into space cheaper and easier than traditional ground-based launch pads.
Stratolaunch Systems Corporation is an American space transportation venture developing a new air launch to orbit system, with its corporate headquarters located in Seattle, WA. The project was officially announced in December 2011 by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Scaled Composites founder Burt Rutan, who had previously collaborated on the creation of SpaceShipOne.
The Stratolaunch is designed to ferry rockets and various types of spacecraft into orbit. The project is a mobile launch system with 3 primary components; a carrier aircraft being built by Scaled Composites (the Stratolaunch), a multi-stage payload ‘launch vehicle’, which would be launched at high altitude into space from under the carrier aircraft, plus a mating and integration system by Dynetics.
In May 2017, the Stratolaunch was rolled out for the 1st time to begin fueling tests, the first of many ground tests. In December 2017, the Stratolaunch was rolled out for the 1st taxi test on the runway at the Mojave Air and Space Port.
In January 2019, Stratolaunch announced it was halting development of its own air-launched family of launch vehicles. This followed the death of Stratolaunch founder Paul Allen in October 2018, who had been the source of funds for the capital intensive development program since its founding in 2011.
The carrier aircraft first took off on April 13, 2019 from the Mojave Air and Space Port, reaching 15,000 ft (4,600 m) and 165kn (305km/h) in a 2.5 hour flight. The plane landed safely amid cheers from the team that designed and built the plane.
Photo: Stratolaunch on Twitter
(Top image: from Stratolaunch video on Youtube)