Saturday morning, Exactly 45 minutes after sunrise over the Mojave Desert, the largest aircraft of all time – and its record-breaking record span, propelled by a record-breaking record – reached a record of 385 feet – took off for the first time. Stratolaunch's aircraft has been under construction for eight years. From here 2022, the company hopes to use a catamaran-type aircraft with six double-fused engines to launch satellite rockets into space.
"You've all been very patient and very tolerant over the years, we were waiting for this big bird to take off and we finally did," Stratolaunch general manager Jean Floyd told reporters. The company announced that the aircraft had reached a speed of 189 mph and a height of 17,000 feet during its 150 minute test flight, before landing safely at the airport. Mojave air and space port.
"The aircraft systems were operating like a watch," trial pilot Evan Thomas told reporters.
But the events of the day were bittersweet. The co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen, longtime space enthusiast and founder of the Stratolaunch project, died last October at the age of 65, following complications related to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. "Even though it was not there today, as the plane was leaving the runway with elegance, I murmured a" thank you "to Paul for m & # 39; to have taken part in this remarkable achievement, "said Floyd.
A day soon, Stratolaunch hopes to be able to transport 250 ton rockets loaded with satellites at an altitude of 35,000 feet – in the stratosphere. Once at cruising altitude, the engines of a rocket would ignite, carrying it with its satellite cargo in space. Only a few facilities, such as the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, can handle rocket launches, which means tight competition for planning and long wait times. Airplanes can take off from many other tracks. Stratolaunch hopes to give its aircraft a competitive advantage for those wishing to launch satellites into orbit.
The six Pratt & Whitney engines and the 28-wheel landing gear of the aircraft were originally designed for the Boeing 747. In fact, the aerospace company Scaled Composites, which collaborated with Stratolaunch for the construction of the aircraft, has achieved substantial savings through the reassignment of three aircraft 747. The aircraft occupies almost every corner of its hangar of about 100,000 square feet in the air port and space of Mojave. Its maximum takeoff weight is 1.3 million pounds. (It is also worth noting that while the aircraft is the largest in terms of scale, the other aircraft exceed it in length.)
The ambitions of Stratolaunch have changed in recent years. Originally, it was intended to transport SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets modified in space, but the two companies quickly separated. In 2016, she found a new partner, Orbital ATK, owned by Northrop Grumman, who built the Pegasus XL rocket. Stratolaunch once hoped to build its own rocket and engines, but it ended the project and fired workers earlier this year.
Although representatives of Allen Holding said the billionaire had set aside funds for Stratolaunch before his death, the company's future is not entirely clear. A spokesman for the company was not able to say immediately when Stratolaunch was planning additional flights and the aircraft would need to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration before it could begin carrying rockets and satellites into space. .
The Stratolaunch project is also facing external pressure. Virgin Orbit of Richard Branson is looking to test its modified Boeing 747 later this year, an aircraft also built to carry rockets with satellites into orbit.
And behind all the ambitious minds of these engineers and aviation experts is also the specter of Spruce goose. The plane, a wonder once completed in 1947 as a favorite project of eccentric business magnate Howard Hughes, only made a flight of a mile and a half before retiring in a museum in Oregon, where Allen would have visited.
Saturday morning, the Stratolaunch team was in a good mood. "We are dedicating this day to the man who inspired us all to look for ways to empower the world's problem solvers, Paul Allen," said Floyd. "Without a doubt, he would have been exceptionally proud to see his plane take off."
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