Technology

Jul 1, 2017

IT'S NOT BIG, IT'S HUGE

Imagine an airplane which looks like two airplanes glued to each other by the wing. Them add six Pratt & Whitney engines, like the ones used by Boeing 747. The result is 580 tons of weight at maximum takeoff.

It looks like something out of a 1960's fantastic movie, where an old villain shows off a new terrific weapon to threaten the whole world. But it's only the new creation from Vulcan Aerospace – founded by co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen, in 1986 – and its name is Stratolaunch.

The aircraft was announced in 2011, but so far, nobody had ever heard more about it – there were even people who questioned about the company's viability - until now.

Last June, the 1st, the plane finally came out of the hangar where it was built and where the fuel tests took place, at the Mojave Air & Space Port, in the California desert. This event marked the end of the construction phase and the beginning of ground and eventually flight tests.

With its 117 metres wingspan (larger than a football field), it becomes the biggest plane in the world, blowing away the previous record-holder – the 1947 Spruce Goose, from Howard Hughes – by almost 20 metres. Vulcan Aerospace also announced that the airplane will have an operational range of 3700 km (2000 nautical miles). The aircraft has 28 wheels and it is 15 metres high.

It is not supposed to carry passengers, even though it could. Instead, it will serve as a reusable first stage for rocket launches and deliver payloads to multiple orbits. It can also launch small satellites weighing up to 450 kg (1000 pounds) into low Earth orbit.

The idea is to save jet fuel in comparison of the ground launches and vastly reduce the cost of sending cargo into space.

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