Stratolaunch, the world’s largest airplane, with a wingspan of 385 feet, a height of 50 feet and total possible weight of 1.3 million pounds, was quietly rolled out Wednesday in the California desert.
The plane is meant to carry Pegasus XL rockets designed by Orbital ATK, a Dulles-based company, that would be tethered to the belly of the enormous plane. These rockets can deliver small satellites, weighing as much as 1,000 pounds, to orbit, reports the Washington Post. Once the Stratolaunch gets to an altitude of 35,000 feet or so, the Pegasus XL rockets would drop and then head for their final destination in space.
Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft and Seattle Seawhawks owner, built the massive plane, which weighs over 500,000 pounds unfueled, reports the Washington Post. The plane has 28 wheels and six 747 jet engines.
The company said it believes that “air launch”of these rockets will be cheaper and more efficient than using satellites in space to launch them vertically, because they will be able to provide “airport-style operations and quick turnaround capabilities.”
The company said in a statement Wednesday that they will be “actively exploring a broad spectrum of launch vehicles that will enable us to provide more flexibility to customers.”
Low-earth orbit (LEO) operations theoretically can reduce costs, and allow for better internet coverage, communication, and numerous other possibilities across the globe, according to proponents.
“When such access to space is routine, innovation will accelerate in ways beyond what we can currently imagine,” Allen said in an emailed statement. “That’s the thing about new platforms: When they become easily available, convenient and affordable, they attract and enable other visionaries and entrepreneurs to realize more new concepts.”
Allen has long called for revolutionizing space travel, and funded the project SpaceShipOne, which one the Ansari X prize and a $10 million award over a decade ago.
“Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be actively conducting ground and flight line testing at the Mojave Air and Space Port,” said ALlen. “This is a first-of-its-kind aircraft, so we’re going to be diligent throughout testing and continue to prioritize the safety of our pilots, crew and staff. Stratolaunch is on track to perform its first launch demonstration as early as 2019.”