The World’s Biggest Aircraft – the Rocket-Launching Stratolaunch – Completes its First Test Flight

Universe Today | 4/18/2019 | Staff
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In 2011, Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen and Scaled Composites founder Burt Rutan announced the creation of Stratolaunch Systems. With the goal of reducing the associated costs of space launches, the company set out to create the world’s largest air-launch-to-orbit system. After many years, these efforts bore fruit with the unveiling of the massive Scaled Composites Model 351 Stratolaunch air carrier in the Summer of 2017.

Similar in principle to Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, this behemoth is designed to deploy rockets from high altitudes so they can send payloads to Low-Earth Orbit (LEO). After multiple tests involving engine preburns and taxiing on the runway, the aircraft made its inaugural flight last weekend (Saturday, April 13th) and flew for two and half hours before safely landing again in the Mojave Desert.

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The flight commenced at 06:58 a.m. PDT (09:58 a.m. EDT) when the aircraft took off from the Mojave Air & Space Port and ended at about 09:30 a.m. PDT (12:30 a.m. EDT). During flight, the aircraft was able to achieve a maximum speed of 304 km/h (189 mph) and reached an altitude of 5,000 m (17,000 ft). As part of the initial flight, the pilots were tasked with evaluating the aircraft’s performance and handling qualities.

This was done through a series of flight control maneuvers to calibrate speed and test flight control systems. According to the company, these included “roll doublets, yawing maneuvers, pushovers and pull-ups, and steady heading side slips.” The flight team also conducted simulated landing approach exercises at a maximum altitude of 4570 m (15,000 ft). As Jean Floyd, CEO of Stratolaunch, said of the test flight:

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“What a fantastic first flight. Today’s flight furthers our mission to provide a flexible alternative to ground launched systems. We are incredibly proud of the Stratolaunch team, today’s flight crew, our partners at Northrop Grumman’s...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Universe Today
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