Stratolaunch’s twin-fuselage plane catches the rays of the sun during a test outing. (Stratolaunch Photo)
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch space company says it’s on track to conduct the first test flight of its mammoth airplane this summer, and use it to send rockets into orbit as early as 2020.
The status check came today during a background briefing here at the 34th Space Symposium, conducted under background-only conditions that precluded quoting sources by name.
Stratolaunch was founded by Allen in 2011, with the goal of building a giant plane that could be used as a platform for sending payloads into space.
Scaled Composites built the plane for Stratolaunch inside a giant hangar at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. Its wingspan is the widest in the world, measuring 385 feet. That’s almost twice as wide as a Boeing 747’s wings.
Last December, the completed plane went through its first runway taxi test at a speed of up to 15 knots (17 mph). Engineers took care of some issues that needed fixing, and then put the plane back on Mojave’s runway in February for a taxi test that revved the plane up to 40 knots (46 mph).
That test pointed up no new problems. Now Stratolaunch has three more ground-based taxi tests on its agenda, at speeds stepping up to 70 knots (81 mph), 85 knots (98 mph) and 120 knots (138 mph). That last figure roughly matches the speed that the plane would need for takeoff.
If all goes well, that would open the way for a “first flight” during the summer months. A series of flight tests would have to be conducted as part of what’s typically an 18- to 24-month process for gaining airworthiness certification from the Federal Aviation Administration. Only then will Stratolaunch be …read more