The Stratolaunch aircraft has reached a major milestone in its journey toward providing convenient, reliable, and routine access to low Earth orbit. The Stratolaunch aircraft was moved out of the hangar on May 31 – for the first time ever – to conduct aircraft fueling tests. This marks the completion of the initial aircraft construction phase and the beginning of the aircraft ground and flight testing phase.
Over the past few weeks, the fabrication infrastructure has been removed, including the three-story scaffolding surrounding the aircraft, and rested the aircraft’s full weight on its 28 wheels for the first time. This was a crucial step in preparing the aircraft for ground testing, engine runs, taxi tests, and ultimately first flight.
Once weight-on-wheels was achieved, it enabled the Stratolaunch aircraft to be weighed for the first time, coming in at approximately 500,000 lbs. That may sound heavy, but remember that the Stratolaunch aircraft is the world’s largest plane by wingspan, measuring 385 ft. – by comparison, a National Football League field spans only 360 ft. The aircraft is 238 ft. from nose to tail and stands 50 ft. tall from the ground to the top of the vertical tail.
The Stratolaunch aircraft is designed for a max takeoff weight of 1,300,000 lbs., meaning it’s capable of carrying payloads up to approximately 550,000 lbs. As announced last fall, a single Orbital ATK Pegasus XL vehicle will be launched with the capability to launch up to three Pegasus vehicles in a single sortie mission.
Over the coming weeks and months, ground and flightline testing will be conducted at the Mojave Air and Space Port. This is a first-of-its-kind aircraft, diligence will be observed throughout testing with priority for the safety of the pilots, crew and staff. Stratolaunch is on track to perform its first launch demonstration as early as 2019.
This marks a historic step in the work to achieve Paul G. Allen’s vision of normalizing access to low Earth orbit.