The largest aeroplane in the world made its first test flight in April over a Californian desert. The aircraft, developed by Stratolaunch, has in theory been designed to launch at altitude a small rocket which will then head out to space to send satellites into orbit.
Photo credits: Stratolaunch/Youtube screenshot
US company Stratolaunch announced on 13 April that it had carried out the first test flight of the largest aeroplane in the world over the Mojave Desert in California.
The size of the craft – 117 metres, which is longer than a football pitch – is far greater than that of the Airbus A380, which checks in at 79.75 metres. The aeroplane, which was built by the legendary aeronautical engineering company Scaled Composites, has two fuselages and is propelled by six Boeing 747 engines.
Designed to launch rockets
In theory, it has been designed to carry and launch at altitude a small rocket which will then fire its engine and head into space to put satellites into orbit. This method provides a more flexible access to space than vertical rocket launches, since all that is required is a large runway for take-off.
The Stratolaunch aeroplane took off from the Mojave airport and "spatioport" at 6.58 am local time (13.58 GMT), and remained in the air for two and a half hours, the company said in a press release. Prior to this, the craft had only carried out tests on the ground.
Top speed of 304 km/h
The maximum speed during the flight topped out at 304 km/h (189 miles per hour) according to Stratolaunch, and the aeroplane rose to an altitude of 17,000 feet (5,182 metres). "What a fantastic first flight," said a delighted CEO of Stratolaunch, Jean Floyd. "Today’s flight represents progress in our mission of being able to offer a flexible alternative solution to ground launch systems."
Stratolaunch was financed by a co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen, with the aim of becoming a new player in the small satellite launching sector, but Allen’s death in October 2018 has made the company’s future somewhat more uncertain.
Cover photo credits: Stratolaunch/Youtube screenshot
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