Stratolaunch unveils world’s largest aircraft

The Stratolaunch aircraft is the largest in the world by wingspan. Image courtesy of Stratolaunch Systems.
The Stratolaunch aircraft is the largest in the world by wingspan. Image courtesy of Stratolaunch Systems.

Last week, US private spaceflight company Stratolaunch Systems unveiled the world's largest aircraft to the public for the first time.

The aircraft, also known simply as ‘Stratolaunch’, is the world’s largest by wingspan, measuring in at a total width of 360ft (110m).

At this length, it is as wide as a US football field and is significantly larger than previous title holders like the Airbus A380.

As well, the Stratolaunch aircraft stands 50ft (15m) high, is 238ft (73m) from nose to tail and weighs in at approximately 550,000 pounds (250,000kg).

While the aircraft is quite heavy, its ultra-wide wingspan actually enables it to lift more than twice its own weight – with a total lifting capacity of 1,300,000 pounds (590,000kg).

This huge payload capacity will enable the primary function of the aircraft: lifting rockets high into the atmosphere.

Initially, the aircraft will be tested carrying a single Pegasus XL rocket produced by Orbital ATK, able to carry small satellites into orbit.

Over the next 18 months, the company will carry out a wide range of ground and flight testing at the Mojave Air and Space Port.

“It is proud day for us at Stratolaunch, for our partners at Scaled Composites, and for our founder Paul Allen. We have a lot of exciting activity ahead as we enter the testing process, and we look forward to sharing our progress during the coming months,” wrote Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd.

High altitude launch benefits

When fully operational, the aircraft will be able to carry up to 3 Pegasus XL rockets into the stratosphere, from where they will then be released from the aircraft and then boost into orbit.

By carrying rockets into the high atmosphere, the requirement for launching first stage boosters is significantly reduced, and as well as the need to plan launches during windows of good weather.

Through this aircraft, Stratolaunch hopes that it will be able to revolutionize the price point for small satellite launches and compete with a number of established and upcoming spaceflight companies in this sector.