28Apr2018

World’s Largest Plane Set To Assist Space Flights

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Stratolaunch Systems will launch Rockets into Orbit

THE largest plane ever built — the mighty Stratolaunch — is scheduled to take to the skies within the next few months. The colossal aircraft is backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

It is so big it requires two cockpits and six jet engines just to get it off the ground. With a wingspan which is longer than a football field at 117 metres it will eventually be used to transport rockets carrying satellites and astronauts into Earth’s upper atmosphere, The Sun reports.

At the 34th Space Symposium in Colorado, Stratolaunch revealed it was now preparing for the plane’s maiden flight this year. It has already gone through two taxi tests in the past few months, with top speeds if 45 kmh and 74 kmh.

The mighty Stratolaunch. Picture: Stratolaunch Systems Corp

The mighty Stratolaunch. Picture: Stratolaunch Systems CorpSource:Supplied

Three more tests are planned to see if can reach the required takeoff speed of 222 kmh. Last year, billionaire Allen revealed the visionary firm’s ambitious plans for the giant record-breaking aircraft. “I would love to see us have a full reusable system and have weekly, if not more often, airport-style, repeatable operations going,” he told the Washington Post.

When asked about the possibility of manned missions, Allen added: “If you caught the bug back in the Mercury era, of course it’s in the back of your mind. “But I think you’re seeing right now, other than [space station] resupply missions, most spaceflights are about launching satellites. That’s the reality.”

The aircraft needs two cockpits to take off. Picture: Stratolaunch Systems Corp

The aircraft needs two cockpits to take off. Picture: Stratolaunch Systems CorpSource:Supplied

As well as sending cargo to space, the plane could be used to launch a secretive Shuttle-sized rocket codenamed “Black Ice”. Company officials at the conference confirmed the “Black Ice” concept was still under study but offered few details about it. Stratolaunch plans to release more details about that “spectrum of services” in the next several months leading up to the plane’s first flight.

In the latest low-speed taxi test, conducted on February 25, 2018, all six of its 4000kg engines were fired. The main purpose of that test, which took place at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port, was to put the aircraft’s ability to steer and stop through its paces.

ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE STRATOLAUNCH PLANE

• The twin-boom aircraft has two cockpits, a wingspan of 117m, a length of 72.5m and a tail height of 15m.

A 2011 artist's impression of the plane. Picture: AP

A 2011 artist’s impression of the plane. Picture: APSource:AP

 

• The massive plane weighs about 249,500kg and a whooping 590,000kg when fully loaded with a rocket payload

• It takes six Pratt & Whitney PW4056 747 jet engines to power the monster jet, which has 28 wheels

• A staggering 97km of wiring runs through the plane

• It is the largest aeroplane in the world by its wingspan, which measures 117m

• In comparison, an American football pitch measures almost 8m less

• The carrier plane has been designed to launch rockets carrying small satellites into orbit from an altitude of 9100m

• These rockets will be tethered to the belly of the giant plane — dropping and “air launching” into space at the correct height

• The plane has reportedly been nicknamed “the Roc”, after a mythical Middle Eastern bird which was so big it could carry an elephant in its claws.

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