The largest plane in the world has just flown for the first time



After years of development in the desert north of Los Angeles, a gigantic six-engine megajet with the scale of an American football pitch flew for the first time on Saturday morning.

Stratolaunch Systems, the company founded in 2011 by the late co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen, made the first test flight of the world's largest aircraft.

Fundamentally,

Stratolaunch

aircraft is a giant flying launch pad, designed to propel satellites into low Earth orbit. Its goal is to offer military, private companies and even NASA itself a more economical way to enter the space.

"Whatever the payload, regardless of the orbit, taking your satellite into space will soon be as simple as reserving an air flight," said CEO Jean Floyd

in 2018

.

The size of the aircraft measures 385 feet – wider than any plane on the planet. From beginning to end, it is 238 feet long. He weighs half a million pounds. He is so big that he has two cockpits, one in each fuselage (but only one is used to fly the plane.)

"It's the biggest plane in the world, it's so huge that it looks like it should not be able to fly," said Aerospace photographer Jack Beyer and the launch of

NASASpaceFlight.com

, told CNN Thursday.

He is delighted to witness the beginnings of the rising trend of the space industry: the use of jets to launch satellites.

Dozens of photographers, industry bloggers and aerospace enthusiasts gathered this week to spot the unique dual – fuselage aircraft.

"People are interested in the first flight of Stratolaunch because they want to see the future," said Beyer. "That's the same reason people log in every year to watch Apple keynotes, and people want to see what the next step is."

A jet, carrying a rocket, carrying a satellite

Here's how Stratolaunch is supposed to work once the aircraft is fully tested and certified: the jet, carrying a rocket laden with satellite, will take off from Mojave and climb to an altitude of 35,000 feet. There, the pilots will launch the rocket from the plane on a trajectory towards space. The plane will then land in Mojave, while the rocket will carry the satellite in an orbit ranging from 300 to 1,200 km above the Earth. The rocket deploys the satellite before finally falling back to Earth, burning in the sky like a meteor.

Although the cost of the aircraft has not been made public, other details are known.

To make it strong and lightweight, Stratolaunch is made primarily of carbon fiber instead of aluminum. To save money on the design of new engines and landing gear, the jet is equipped with six Pratt & Whitney engines, originally designed for the Boeing 747s. Its landing gear, which includes 28 staggering wheels, was also designed for the 747.

Low Earth orbit satellites can provide broadband Internet communications and connectivity to isolated areas on the ground. They can perform valuable earth observation and monitoring work. The market for commercial satellite launch services is growing rapidly and is expected to reach $ 7 billion by 2024,

according to Global Market Insights

.

The launch of small space satellites by aircraft also promises to be less expensive than traditional rocket launches, eliminating the need for launch pads and all the expensive equipment and infrastructure surrounding a traditional rocket launch. .

This also helps reduce fuel costs because the aircraft consumes less fuel than a traditional rocket when it takes off from the Earth.

Other benefits: Bad weather will not be as much of a problem. Storms can delay the launch of a traditional rocket, but a plane can simply take off and fly over bad weather – or all around – and then launch the satellite.

Launches could take place more frequently and in a shorter time. No more waiting for a slot to open on a spacecraft taking off from a traditional ground launching ramp.

Richard Branson Competition

Although Stratolaunch has only performed one flight, it is already facing competition from billionaire Richard Branson and his company Virgin Orbit. Its LauncherOne service wants to launch rockets carrying satellites from a customized Boeing 747-400 – which, unlike Stratolaunch, is a proven aircraft.

Virgin Orbit plans to launch its first launch at the Mojave Air & Space Port sometime "in the middle of the year".

"We are on the right track to offer new launch opportunities to small satellites that are waiting too long to get into space," said Wednesday, Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit

in a report

.

And after

The first Stratolaunch flight presents the company with a new set of goals to go through before it can start doing business. Pilots will have to test the jet several times before being able to check and certify it by the Federal Aviation Administration.

If all goes as planned, Stratolaunch said the plane is expected to launch its first satellite over the next year.

Check out the flight video below.


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