Science

Stratolaunch, World's Largest Airplane, will Launch Rockets and Satellites into Space

By | Jun 01, 2017 06:12 AM EDT
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Humungous!

Stratolaunch carrier aircraft. (Photo : Stratolaunch Systems)

Air-launch

Pegasus launch vehicle. (Photo : Stratolaunch Systems)

Stratolaunch, the world's largest aircraft that will commercialize the air-launch of satellite-carrying rockets, was unveiled yesterday in California at the space port of its owner, Stratolaunch Systems.

Previously called "Scaled Composites Model 351" (nicknamed the "Roc"), the plane provides a platform from which air-launch space missions can be staged. To attain this aim means this plane has had to be massive in every way.

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Stratolaunch, which is termed a carrier aircraft, consists of two fuselages, each 72 meters long. The twin fuselages are connected to each other by its wings, which have a wingspan of 117 meters, the longest of any aircraft ever built.

Each of the twin fuselages is 72 meters long and is supported by 12 main landing gear wheels and two nose gear wheels for a total of 28 wheels.

The power plant of this rocket launching monster consists of six thrust-range jet engines sourced from two used 747-400s and generating from 205 kN to 296 kN (46,000 to 66,500 pound-force) of thrust.

The carrier aircraft is only one of three major components of this new mobile launch system. The other two are a multi-stage payload launch vehicle with a satellite payload that will be launched at high altitude from under the carrier aircraft and a mating and integration system.

The carrier aircraft will release the launch vehicle -- which is the "Pegasus XL rocket" developed by Orbital ATK -- at about 12,000 meters altitude.

The solid-fueled rocket motor will ignite and Pegasus XL will deliver the satellite payload into low Earth orbit (LEO). The carrier aircraft will return to Earth, land and be made ready for the next mission.

Pegasus can loft small payloads of up to 443 kilograms into LEO.

The entire mobile launch system will weigh over 540,000 kg (1,200,000 lb), including the fully fueled Pegasus XL. It can carry over 227,000 kg of payload.

The first test flights of the carrier aircraft will begin in 2017 with a commercial launch scheduled for 2020.

Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd said the company's goal is to have a launch demonstration as early as 2019.

"Over the coming weeks and months, we'll be actively conducting ground and flight line testing at the Mojave Air and Space Port," said Floyd.

 

 

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