Russ Niles | April 13, 2019
The world's largest aircraft made its first flight early Saturday. The Stratolaunch, a double-fuselage six-engine monster with a wingspan of 385 feet, took off from Mojave after years of development. The aircraft was designed by Burt Rutan, founder of Scaled Composites, as an air launch platform for low Earth orbit satellites, which will significantly reduce launch costs. The aircraft is designed to launch rockets with a capacity ranging from 400,000 pounds to 35,000 feet. It will open the fast-growing communications, reconnaissance and broadband communications market between 300 and 1,200 miles above sea level. We hope for a first launch in 2020.
As Stratolaunch engages in the long and costly aircraft certification process, Virgin Orbit is preparing to launch a competitive service using the long-established Boeing 747-400 as a platform. Although the jumbo jet does not carry as much as the Stratolaunch, it can still serve a significant portion of the small satellite launch market and is expected to be operational by the middle of the year. "We are on track to offer new launch opportunities to small satellites that are waiting too long to get into space," Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit, said Wednesday in a statement.