What has just happened? The Stratolaunch is a gigantic aircraft designed to carry rockets into the stratosphere. Yesterday he made his first flight. With a duration of 150 minutes, the 385 ft wide aircraft has reached a top speed of 189 mph and a height of 16,000 ft without a hitch, for a smooth performance and in line with expectations.
The Stratolaunch has a width of 117 meters, a length of 73 meters and a height of 15 meters. It weighs 500,000 pounds (250 tons) empty, but full of fuel and with a rocket payload, it can weigh up to 1,300,000 pounds (650 tons). To push all this weight, it uses two fuselages each equipped with three Boeing 747 engines able to support a distance of 35,000 feet and a distance of 2,000 nautical miles (3,704 km).
"It was a moving moment for me, personally, to watch this majestic bird take flight," said Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd during a call to the press. "You've all been very patient and very tolerant over the years, waiting for us to get this big bird off the ground, and we've finally done it."
The Stratolaunch is the most advanced in the development of future rocket planes, but it is not alone. There is a strong demand for a way to launch rockets cheaply and from other locations. Gigantic planes are reusable (unlike many rockets), can take off from most major airports and their flights are less dependent on weather conditions.
Stratolaunch was previously associated with SpaceX, but it ended the partnership to focus on launching their reusable rockets. Stratolaunch has signed an agreement with Northrop Grumman for the launch of their Pegasus rocket, the first privately developed rocket and the first to use an aircraft to launch it. However, at age 29, the Pegasus begins to show his age.
Although the flight was a moment of pride for Stratolaunch, it was bitter-bitter for many engineers who wanted the founder of Microsoft and Stratolaunch, Paul Allen, to celebrate this success. Allen died last October of a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. "Even though it was not there today, as the plane was taking off gracefully from the runway, I murmured a" thank you "to Paul for m & # 39; to have taken part in this remarkable achievement, "said Floyd.
Even if the flight has been a success in all measures, the road is still long. When questioned, Stratolaunch employees were unable to set a schedule for their upcoming flights and could not guess when the first commercial operation could take place.