Stratolaunch: The World’s Biggest Plane Flies for The First Time

By: | April 30th, 2019

Scaled Composites Model 351 Stratolaunch has made its maiden flight, cutting through the air with as much grace as a twin-fuselage aircraft with a wingspan length of 117 meters can. The record-breaking contraption was under development since early 2011, while the actual testing had started since May 2017. Finally, Stratolaunch Systems has arranged a real test flight, piloted by former F-16 pilot Evan Thomas, who climbed at an altitude of 15000 feet while cruising at about 170-175 mph, before lowering the 351’s 28 landing gear wheels for a smooth touchdown.

Stratolaunch 351 aims at revolutionizing space flight and exploration by decisively reducing the costs of putting a satellite in orbit. The whole point is to take heavy and hugely expensive rockets that fight hard to reach escape velocity out of the equation and replace them with a large airplane that can take your much smaller rocker to an altitude of 35000 before it releases it. The little rocket will then take the baton to put the satellite into orbit, and deploy it there. To carry all this weight with efficiency, the Stratolaunch 351 has to be both light and strong, so it is made almost entirely of carbon fiber.

Powered by a total of six Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines of 252.4kN each, the 351 is capable of carrying payloads of up to 250 tons, and reach a maximum speed of 853 km/h (530 mph) for a range of 1852 km (1151 miles). The Stratolaunch is targeting a market that is expected to grow exponentially over the following years, and it’s not the only player that goes for it. Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit has been envisioning a similar implementation with their LauncherOne service, and they are also about to conduct their first test launch during this summer.

Bianca Van der Watt

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