The Stratolaunch, one of the world’s largest aircraft, was recently rolled out at Mojave, California. This huge jet has been designed specifically to air-launch satellites into space from high altitude.
Ground testing will be carried out at Mojave over the next few months. Manufacturer Stratolaunch Systems Corp said the aircraft is “on track to perform its first launch demonstration as early as 2019”. The plan is for the jet to launch a single Orbital ATK Pegasus XL vehicle initially, and eventually develop a capability to launch up to three Pegasus vehicles in a single sortie.
Stratolaunch has the widest wingspan of any aircraft, at 385ft (117m). This is 95ft (29m) wider than the 290ft (88.4m) span on the sole Antonov An-225 Mriya. In comparison, the Boeing 747-8’s span is 224ft 7in (68.4m) and the Airbus A380’s span is 261ft (79.5m).
Stratolaunch is 238ft (73m) long, around the same length as an A380, but shorter than the 275ft 7in-long (84m) An-225. It stands 50ft (15m) high at the tail and has 28 wheels. The twin fuselage is one of the most distinctive features; the right fuselage houses the flight crew and the left fuselage the flight data systems.
Stratolaunch has an empty weight of 500,000lb (226,796kg) and has been designed for a maximum take-off weight of 1,300,000lb (589,760kg). It has been designed to carry payloads up to approximately 550,000lb (249,475kg) and will be powered by six 56,000lb (250kN) Pratt & Whitney PW4056 engines.
The aircraft is the result of a partnership between Stratolaunch Systems Corp and Mojave-based Scaled Composites. Stratolaunch Systems Corp was established in 2011 by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen with the aim of making access to space more convenient, reliable and routine for commercial and philanthropic organisations and governments. Allen previously funded SpaceShipOne, the first private spacecraft to carry a civilian into suborbital space.