With a 117-meter wingspan, the Stratolaunch is almost twice as large as a Boeing 747. It has two identical fuselages, three wings, one of which is in the center, and six Pratt & Wʜɪᴛney engines mounted on 28 wheels.
As soon as it reaches its cruising altitude, which is around 10 kilometers, one or more launch vehicles are deployed. This makes it possible to quickly form constellations at various inclinations. As the launch vehicles go towards space, the Stratolaunch returns to the runway to refuel for its impending mission. Additionally, it can escape inclement weather, which would make it impossible for a rocket to launch from a stationary platform.
The 2,000 nautical mile range of the Stratolaunch will be comparable to that of an Airbus A319 aircraft. Its engines, some of its landing gear, and the flight deck were “cannibalized” from two decommissioned Boeing 747s in order to reduce the cost of development. The aircraft has been under development since 2011. In 2017, it was hoisted out of the specially constructed hanger, and in 2018, it underwent its first high-speed taxi test.
Since Stratolaunch operates as an “air launch” system, rockets will be carried by airborne vehicles up to 35,000 feet before being launched. By flying in and out of a regular runway, a system like the one advocated by Stratolaunch and Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit enables greater flexibility and, eventually, faster turnaround between launches.
Let’s take a look at the giant Stratolaunch aircraft in the video below:
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