The giant aircraft could be fully operational by the end of the decade
Comfortably travelling into space might become routine in the near future as Stratolaunch – a giant plane that looks like two aircrafts welded together – marks another key milestone.
Despite still being under development, the machine went through its first successful taxi test in December. Last Sunday, the aircraft managed to reach a new taxi speed of 40 knots, which is around 74 km/h, almost twice as fast as during the first test.
The aircraft might serve as a platform for lifting rockets into the stratosphere before launching them into space. This method appears to be a cheaper and more reliable route to low-Earth orbit (LEO), the area that is home to many satellites.
Stratolaunch was founded in 2017 by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen and the project aims to develop an air-launch platform that would make access to space more convenient, and reliable.
Allen shared footage of the taxi test on his Facebook page saying that the team verified control responses, building on the first taxi tests conducted in December.
Stratolaunch’s wingspan is 117 meters and if it ever gets airborne, it would be the largest plane ever to fly.
Being equipped with six huge Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines, the plane can carry up to 250,000kg of material to an altitude of 11 kilometres.
According to space entrepreneur Gary Hudson, the project – despite its rather ambitious nature – can be successful, mostly because of Allan’s resources.
“If they choose wisely, they could provide crew and light cargo services to LEO for considerably less than current prices,” he told NBC News.
“If they don’t, they will become a footnote to astronautical history for having built the world’s largest plane.”
Stratolaunch is currently under construction at the Mojave Air & Space Port in Mojave, California and the company wants to be fully operational by the end of this decade.