The Stratolaunch mobile launch platform, which is developers say is the largest aircraft in the world, has made it maiden flight.
The double-fuselaged Stratolaunch has a wingspan of 385ft (117m). The aircraft, which is planned to be in service next year, will carry payloads such as satellites to an altitude of 35,000ft (10,700m), and launch them into orbit using a rocket.
The first rocket launcher to be used on the platform, the Pegasus, will be able to carry payloads of up to 370kg (815 lb).
Stratolauch’s first flight took place on April 13 from the Mojave Air and Space Port in the USA. During its 2.5 hour flight, the aircraft achieved a maximum speed of 189mph (305km/h) at altitudes of up to 17,000ft while performance and handling qualities were assessed.
Test exercises conducted included flight control maneuvers to calibrate speed and test flight control systems, including roll doublets, yawing maneuvers, pushovers and pull-ups and steady heading side slips. The aircraft also conducted simulated landing approach exercises at an altitude of 15,000ft.
Jean Floyd, CEO of Stratolaunch said, “Today’s flight furthers our mission to provide a flexible alternative to ground launched systems.”
Stratolaunch was founded by Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul G Allen and SpaceShipOne designer Burt Rutan.
The all-composite aircraft is powered by six Pratt & Whitney PW4056 engines. It has a maximum take-off weight of 1,300,000 lbs. Its reinforced center wing can support launch vehicles which weigh up to 500,000 lbs, says the company.
Engineers have completed a number of ground tests on the aircraft since it was first revealed in May 2017. After testing all six of the aircraft’s Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines, the aircraft successfully completed its first low-speed taxi tests in December 2017.