While Microsoft’s Bill Gates is focusing on his philanthropic efforts, his co-founder Paul Allen is busy building a huge aircraft that’ll be capable of launching rockets into orbit in the coming years. Though he has been relatively quiet for the last six odd years, his company Stratolaunch Systems rolled out the monstrous airplane out of the hangar for the first time to conduct fueling tests in the Mojave Desert.
Called the Stratolaunch, an apt name for an aircraft that delivers rockets to low Earth orbit, this massive airplane weighs about 500,000 lbs (approx 227,000 kilograms). It, however, can have a maximum weight of 1.3 million lbs (590,000 kilograms) during take off. This makes it stand out as the world’s largest aircraft, which sports six engines used by the Boeing 747 airplane and has a wingspan of 385 feet and measures 238 feet from the nose to tail and stands 50 feet tall from the ground.
When hopes for Paul’s aerospace project, which he started back in 2011, were dwindling and everyone thought that its efforts have been wasted, just then he rolled the aircraft out of the hangar to prove that things have surely progressed. The last few weeks of the company’s time have been utilized to remove the fabrication infrastructure, making the aircraft stand on all of its 28 wheels for the very first time.
Talking about this significant milestone in an official blog post, Jean Floyd, CEO of Stratolaunch Systems said:
Today, we’re moving the Stratolaunch aircraft out of the hangar – 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.
Now, this marks the completion of the initial aircraft construction phase and transition into the aircraft ground and flight testing phase. Microsoft’s co-founder is planning to not only conduct the scheduled fueling tests but move beyond and conduct other ground and flightline testing at the Mojave Air and Space Port. It is working with aerospace company Scaled Composites, who is leading the construction of this aircraft. It is gunning to demonstrate the first rocket launch as early as 2019.
The primary objective of building a humongous rocket in the first place was to save the large amounts of fuel required to make the rockets take off from the launchpad on ground level. Using the Stratolaunch, the Microsoft co-founder is now looking to cut down on the time and fuel required by giving the rocket a headstart — you know, by carrying them into the atmosphere and then launching them from aboard the flying aircraft.
There are presently no specifics or tests on how the company is planning to control the launch and flight of the rocket from the Stratolaunch but it has already secured a partner to test out this new flight system — private spaceflight company Orbital ATK. It joined hands with Stratolaunch Systems earlier last year in October to launch its Pegasus XL rocket into orbit from atop the huge aircraft — a very different design choice from what Paul chose before this. It also based on the same concept as other private space companies, such as SpaceX or Virgin Galactic — reusability.