Stratolaunch passed a major milestone this weekend when their aircraft taxied under its own power for the first time. This low-speed taxi test, using its six Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines, is another step towards getting the aircraft airborne.
The main objective of the test was to ensure the aircraft can steer and come to a halt. The test went without a hitch with steering, braking, anti-skid and telemetry all working as expected.
The video below shows the massive aircraft, nicknamed the Roc, moving slowly down the runway. With a wingspan of 117m/385ft it has the longest wingspan of any aircraft to date. The aircraft features a twin-fuselage with a mounting point in the middle. Orbital ATK will be providing Pegasus XL rockets to the venture. Many of the parts, including the engines, come from two Boeing 747s in order to cut costs.
Speaking about the test George Bugg, aircraft program manager at Stratolaunch Systems Corp, said:
“This was another exciting milestone for our team and the program. Our crew was able to demonstrate ground directional control with nose gear steering, and our brake systems were exercised successfully on the runway. Our first low speed taxi test is a very important step toward first flight. We are all proud and excited.”
Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft is the man behind Stratolaunch. A well known philanthropist, Allen was previously the sole investor behind SpaceShipOne, winner of the Ansari X Prize, that eventually evolved into Virgin Galactic’s space program. Indeed Scaled Composites, the company building the Roc, is also the team behind Virgin’s spacecraft.
Speaking in his vision for mankind’s future in space Allen states several advantages to this system over traditional rocket launches.
The air-launch approach is, by design, much more reusable that most rockets, even with Space X’s reusable rocket advances.
It also offers greater flexibility for launch location with just a runway needed and the flight radius of 1000 nautical miles should make bad weather delaying launches much less likely.
Allen hopes that all this will drive down the cost of putting things into space leading to far more innovation from smaller companies with less budget.
Going forward expect to see more low-speed tests before the program moves onto higher speed tests. If everything goes to plan the Roc could take flight as early as 2019.