The founder of an ambitious US company hoping to fly the world’s largest plane says they could be ready to take off very soon.
In an interview with Wired, Paul Allen – who was also a co-founder of Microsoft – said the absolutely massive Stratolaunch carrier, which spans more than a football field, could conduct a test flight by fall this year.
It has been in development since 2011, with an originally planned flight date in 2015. Delays have hampered efforts, however, with the plane first being shown off to the public to begin ground testing in May 2017. But its huge size has garnered a lot of attention.
“When you see that giant plane, it’s a little nutty,” Allen said in the interview. “And you don’t build it unless you’re very serious, not only about wanting to see the plane fly but to see it fulfill its purpose. Which is getting vehicles in orbit.”
As mentioned, the plane is huge. It has a wingspan of 117 meters (385 feet), and will be used to take rockets into the sky. Here, these will detach, fire up their engines, and then make their way into orbit. The plane will land back on a runway, ready for another flight.
That fall date may be ambitious – GeekWire noted it was “likely to slip”. But it does look like some serious progress is being made. The plane will conduct its flights from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, where it has already done some taxi tests.
And in an announcement yesterday, the Stratolaunch company also revealed some new details about what the plane will carry. They said there would be a family of four launch vehicles, which includes the Pegasus rocket, which already has dozens of flights under its belt, capable of carrying 370 kilograms (815 pounds) to orbit. That first launch is targeted for 2020.
The plane will also be able to carry a “regular” medium rocket and a “heavy” medium rocket, capable of 3,400 and 6,000 kilograms (7,500 and 13,000 pounds) to orbit respectively. The former has a tentative launch date of 2022, while the latter is still in early development.
Stratoalunch said it was also looking at using the carrier to launch a fully reusable space plane into orbit, with an eye on eventually sending humans to space. They said this was purely a “design study” at the moment, with no further details released.
The idea is that this will make space cheaper and easier to reach – comparable to “booking an airline flight,” CEO Jean Floyd said in the statement. Now the company just needs to get a successful test flight under its belt, and that might come pretty soon.