The co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen, has just unwrapped the world’s biggest aircraft on Wednesday. The monolithic plane was wheeled out by Allen’s aerospace firm, Stratolaunch Systems, and it features the longest wingspan of any aircraft in the history of flying.
The Stratolaunch is an aircraft that was created to hold space rockets between its two fuselages. Back in 2011, the project’s cost was first calculated to come in around $300 million, though the actually pricing for the whole project has yet to be reported. The goal is when the plane reaches altitude, it will drop the rockets from between it’s two fuselages, whereas the rockets will trigger and launch, essentially making the plane it’s own launchpad.
The plane’s images were released on Wednesday, along with it’s nickname, ‘Roc.’ You can see the plane coming out of the hanger located in California’s Mojave Desert, with it’s weight coming in at approximately 500,000 pounds without any cargo loaded.
The plane is touted to carry a massive 1.3 million pounds, and rolls around the tarmac using 28 wheels. Once airborne, its six 747 aircraft engines kick in and carry most of the weight. The plane’s size will allow it to be used as a rocket launching pad, saving tons of fuel that would have otherwise been needed if the satellites and rockets that are normally used, where launched from the ground instead.
From Daily Mail:
Last year, Stratolaunch signed a deal with aerospace and defense firm Orbital ATK. Under terms of the deal, the Stratolaunch will propel Orbital’s Pegasus XL rocket, which is used to send small satellites into space. Allen’s move coincides with a surge of new businesses planning to sell internet access, Earth imagery, climate data and other services from networks of hundreds of satellites in low-altitude orbits around Earth.
But his vision is different from what Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and other companies have for building commercial highways to space.
Musk’s goal is to fly people to Mars. Bezos is developing low-cost, reusable rockets with the goal of moving energy-intensive, heavy industry off Earth. Branson is focused on space tourism and a small satellite launcher.
The advantage of Allen’s approach will be the ability to position the plane so satellites can be directly delivered into very precise orbits and do so quickly, without launch range scheduling issues and weather-related delays, Chuck Beames, who oversees Allen’s space ventures, said.
The is a design that reaches into the future of aerospace and space design. Just by Stratolaunch using its twin-fuselage that incorporates engines, landing gear, avionics and other parts, companies in the space industry will be able to save money, in turn allowing for more frequent launches. All of this was possible because of the ingenuity of pairing six Boeing 747 jets onto a larger framed design. Amazing!