Okay, so getting rockets (and satellites) into orbit is a pretty difficult feat. There’s a lot going on on the launchpad, there’s a whole lot of atmosphere to travel though, and so on. So… what if we took the launchpad closer to orbit? That’ll make launching satellites into space easier, right? That’s what the guys over at Stratolaunch is trying to accomplish by building (and flying) the largest aeroplane in the world.
Stratolaunch has seen its first successful flight, posting the results of this unlikely craft’s liftoff and landing online for all to see. The aircraft’s wingspan is larger than the length of an American football field (117m, to be exact), which makes it the largest all-composite aircraft to take to the skies to date. On Saturday, the twin-hulled space-launcher platform took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California for a two and a half hour flight over the Mojave Desert.
But what does this massive aircraft have to do with spaceflight? Surely you can’t fly a double-hulled plane longer than a sports field into space? Well, no. And you don’t have to. Stratolaunch’s purpose is to carry payloads of up to 250,000 kg (in the form of externally carried rockets and satellites) on its reinforced central wing. After getting a boost by Stratolaunch the payloads can be sent further under their own power, into low-Earth orbit.
During the test flight, the Stratolaunch reached an altitude of 17,000 ft (5,200m) and a maximum speed of 304 km/h while carrying out a series of manoeuvres to evaluate aircraft performance. Cause a plane’s gotta be able to do flips. Actually, we’d totally pay to see this monster craft manage a barrel roll. It might be a little expensive for that, though.