The world's largest aircraft is about to fly for the first time



Stratolaunch Systems, the company founded in 2011 by the late co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen, does not say when it plans to perform the first test flight on the world's largest aircraft.

But the warning signs will soon come to an end, with the completion earlier this year of high-speed taxis tests on the runways, which, according to the company, would precede the initial voyage of the airport. # 39; air.

By and large, Stratolaunch aircraft are 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 booking 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 will be used to fly the plane.)

"It's the biggest airplane in the world – it's so huge that it seems like it should not be able to fly," Beirut's Beirut photographer said on Thursday. aerospace industry and launch photographer for NASASpaceFlight.com.

He is excited not only to see the thing fly away, but also to witness the beginnings of the rising trend of the space industry: use jets to launch satellites.

Last week at Mojave Air & Space Port, dozens of photographers, industry bloggers and aerospace enthusiasts gathered to watch the unique double fuselage plane, parked in front of his hangar.

"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 tested and certified: the jet, carrying a satellite loaded rocket, 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 then lands in Mojave, while the rocket carries the satellite in an orbit ranging from 300 to 1,200 miles 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.

The landing gear has 28 wheels.
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. .

It also saves fuel 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

But Stratolaunch has not even stolen yet. And it is already facing the competition of 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 waiting too long to get into space," Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart said in a statement on Wednesday.
Virgin Orbit plans to use a custom Boeing 747-400 to compete with Stratolaunch.

And after

The first test flight of the Stratolaunch could be imminent. In January, during one of the tests on the runways, the pilots almost brought the plane to take off. The video posted on the company's Facebook page showed that the nose was briefly lifted off the runway before the pilots began to slow down the plane.
Stratolaunch stalled at January's high-speed taxi test.

The first Stratolaunch flight will present 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.


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