Stratolaunch Aircraft Makes Second Powered Taxi Test
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch is one of the most exciting space companies out there right now. Centred around the largest aircraft (by wingspan) ever constructed we can’t wait to see it get airborne. For now we have to settle for watching it taxi down a runway.
Following a low-speed taxi test back in December the company have upped the ante with this latest test. Again powered by its six Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines the behemoth roared down the runway. The purpose of the test was once again to test the steering, braking and telemetry this time at a higher speed. This time the aircraft hit a top speed of 40 knots (46mph).
Stratolaunch yesterday released a gallery of photos and a video from the test which took place at the weekend. The aircraft, nicnamed the Roc, has a giant wingspan of 117 metres or 285 feet. It has a twin fuselage with a mounting point for rockets in between. Many of the parts, including the four engines come from two cannibalised Boeing 747s. Orbital ATK will provide their Pegasus XL rockets to the venture.
Paul Allen, the man behind Stratolaunch, is no stranger to space travel. His first investment was SpaceShipOne the winner of the Ansari X Prize. This would eventually evolved into Virgin Galactic. That spacecraft and the Roc are built by the same company, Scaled Composites.
Using aircraft like this to put rockets in space offers several advantages. The plane is much more reusable than rockets, despite SpaceX’s efforts to improve this. The launch location is much more flexible too. The aircraft can take off from any runway big enough. Its range of 1000 nautical miles means it is less susceptible to adverse weather.
The company plans more low-speed tests in the future as they ramp up their testing programme. If everything goes to plan we should see Roc soaring through the air some time in 2019.