Tag Archives: Stratolaunch

World’s largest aircraft flies for the first time

Credit: Stratolaunch.

A giant airplane of epic proportions took off for its maiden flight from the Mojave Air And Space Port in California. The Roc, as it has been dubbed by the company behind it, Stratolaunch, made it back to base safely, officially making it the largest airplane in the world.

“It was an emotional moment for me, personally, to watch this majestic bird take flight,” Stratolaunch’s CEO Jean Floyd said during a press call. “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.”

In Greek mythology, Roc is a giant mythical bird known for its ability to pick up and feed on baby elephants. Legend has it that the presence of this ominous bird would cast shade on the land below it and its flapping wings could create gusts of wind comparable to a cyclone.

It took off at 6:46 AM this morning from Stratolaunch’s spaceport, and the mechanical Roc was a sight to rival its mythical namesake. As it took off, the huge airplane blew a copious amount of dust after its six Pratt & Whitney PW4056 Turbofan engines, which normally power Boeing 747-400’s, unleashed 340,000 pounds (154,000 kg) of thrust.

The aircraft is 385 ft (117m) wide, 238 ft (73m) long and 50 ft (15m) tall. It weighs about 500,000 pounds (250 tons) empty, but full of fuel and with a payload, it can weigh as much as 1,300,000 pounds (650 tons).

Roc wasn’t designed to transport passengers or any kind of cargo. Instead, Stratolaunch’s vision is to haul rocket payloads up into the sky at an altitude of more than 30,000 ft from which point they can set off into orbit. Essentially, the Roc plays the role of a 1st stage booster that is fully reusable and flexibly deployable. Theoretically, this means dramatically cutting down costs.

The approach is quite different from SpaceX and Blue Origin which have chosen to design reusable rockets. However, given the demand for affordable deployment of payloads into Earth’s low orbit, there’s still enough room for growth and this kind of competition will only cut down prices even further.

At Roc’s event, Stratolaunch executives took a moment to honor the company’s founder, Paul Allen (who also co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates). Allen passed away last October from non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

“Even though he wasn’t there today, as the plane lifted gracefully from the runway, I did whisper a ‘thank you’ to Paul for allowing me to be a part of this remarkable achievement,” Floyd said.

Credit; Stratolaunch, YouTube.

World’s biggest aircraft completes key milestone ahead of 2019 launch

Credit; Stratolaunch, YouTube.

Credit; Stratolaunch, YouTube.

Stratolaunch is by far the world’s largest aircraft. Its wings, spanning an impressive 385 feet (118-m), are roughly the same length as a football field and the craft needs two fuselages with two separate cockpits to stay airborne. Since it was first unveiled to the world in 2017, the aircraft has steadily been gearing towards its much-anticipated maiden flight — slated for 2019. Now, Stratolaunch Systems posted a YouTube video showing the huge aircraft performing a taxi test and reaching a top speed of 46 mph.

Stratolaunch is the brainchild of Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder, who has joined the ranks of other tech billionaires that made a transition to aerospace like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk or, to some extent, Richard Branson. This isn’t the first time Allen has ventured into the private space industry. In 2004, he funded the construction of Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipOne suborbital spacecraft, which successfully climbed to an altitude of 50,000 feet. It was the first privately funded project to put a civilian into space.

The goal of Allen’s company is to “provide convenient, reliable, and routine access to low-Earth orbit.” While companies like SpaceX have focused on designing reusable rocket boosters to substantially cut down costs, Stratolaunch is taking a slightly different route. Like SpaceX’s boosters, a Stratolaunch will be reusable, enabling very affordable deployment of cargo and satellites into Earth’s low-orbit, for example to the International Space Station, though nowhere as ‘cheaply’ as SpaceX,. It’s a different approach and a different niche market for Stratolaunch, but one that might only help to strengthen the private space industry as a whole.

[panel style=”panel-warning” title=”Stratolaunch specs:” footer=””]Wingspan: 385 ft. (117 m)
Length: 238 ft. (72 m)
Height: 50 ft. (15 m)
Power: six high-bypass-ratio turbofan engines
Weight: 500,000 pounds (250 tons) and needs 28 wheels between its two fuselages
[/panel]

To take off, Stratolaunch needs a 3.6-kilometer runway at the very least. Initially, the plane was supposed to carry a Falcon 9 from SpaceX but now Stratolaunch wants to deploy Orbital ATK’s Pegasus XL rockets. It can carry and release up to three such rockets at an altitude of approximately 30,000 feet (9,100 m), before launching them into space. Rocket launches from this altitude would allow for satellites to more easily enter and then begin circling the globe on a low-Earth orbit, or LEO. Small satellites can be deployed this way into different orbits on the same flight.

Credit: Stratolaunch.

Credit: Stratolaunch.

This weekend, Strato successfully completed a taxi test reaching a top speed of 46 miles per hour. The test assessed the craft’s ability to steer and stop using its controls. The date for its test flight hasn’t been announced yet but we do know that the company is gearing for a 2019 maiden launch.

Strato is also considering developing its own launch systems. According to SpaceNews, the company has hired propulsion engineers and has a Space Act Agreement with NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi to use a test stand there for “testing of its propulsion system test article element 1.” Company spokesman Steve Lombardi said Strato is in the “early stage” of a propulsion development project.

The giant Stratolaunch aircraft, with a wing span the size of a football field, is set to piggyback rockets for easy orbit deployment. (c) Dynetics/Stratolaunch Systems

Microsoft co-founder announces new private space flight company

The giant Stratolaunch aircraft, with a wing span the size of a football field, is set to piggyback rockets for easy orbit deployment. (c) Dynetics/Stratolaunch Systems

The giant Stratolaunch aircraft, with a wing span the size of a football field, is set to piggyback rockets for easy orbit deployment. (c) Dynetics/Stratolaunch Systems

We’re at the dawn of a new exciting era – the private space age. More and more companies and influential businessmen have hopped on the bandwagon in the past decade, with the thought of building something truly incredible, while operating a profitable business at the same time. Richard Branson launched Virgin Galactic, Elon Musk (Paypal founder) paved the way for the promising SpaceX, Jeff Bezos opened Blue Origin, and now another business magnate is set to join these highly distinguished ranks – Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder, with his newly announced Stratolaunch.

The company’s mission and objectives are extremely ambitious, to say the least. Their first project involved the building of a massive aircraft, which when completed will have the largest wingspan in the world (the size of a football field), capable of carrying manned or cargo rockets close enough for them to easily deploy in orbit. Its advanced launch system is designed such that a mid-flight booster ignites to send cargo, satellites and, eventually, people into orbit. Most likely, the aircraft will deploy SpaceX two-stage rockets, whose boosters will be released at an altitude of approximately 30,000 feet (9,100 m), before launching into space.

“Stratolaunch will build an air launch system to give us orbital access to space with greater safety, flexibility and cost effectiveness, both for cargo and manned missions.” Allen at a December 13th press conference.

The dual-bodied, 6 engine jet aircraft will be constructed by Scaled Composites, a California based aerospace design company founded by industry pioneer Burt Rutan, at which Paul Allen is the sole investor. A few specs: wing span of 385 feet (117 meters), 1.2 million pounds (more than 544,000 kilograms) in weight. It’s so large that it will require at least a 3.6 kilometer runway just to take off.

This isn’t the first time Allen has ventured into the private space industry, as he funded the construction of Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipOne suborbital spacecraft,  which successfully climbed to an altitude of 115,090 m in 2004. It was the first ever privately funded project to put a civilian into space. Now, with Stratolaunch, Allen intends on creating the first ever completely privately funded space company.

Building a giant aircraft which can ferry rockets, is a lot more efficient from multiple points of view. It’s more cost effective, since you don’t need to build high range rockets that directly launch into space, it cancels weather complications, and offers a substantial operational flexibility. It sounds like a brilliant business venture, but will it ever see the light of day? Well, Stratolaunch officials promise it will, since most of the design process has been completed and construction will begin soon at the Mojave Air and Space Port hangar.

“This is not a sketch,” Burt Rutan said. “It exists in hundreds of detailed drawings, and it’s relatively close to [being built] as soon as we can get a building big enough.”

“By the end of this decade, Stratolaunch will be putting spacecraft into orbit,” Allen said.

We’d love to hear and learn more about this ambitious prospect, however Stratolaunch is still in its early infancy, and like Allen stated, the first launch won’t be ready for at least a couple of years. As such, the company has no interest in sharing too much information, just enough to build some hype. Check out the company’s presentation video for its promised winged behemoth.

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