Vulcan Aerospace's Stratolaunch is the world's biggest plane ever made and it is 76 percent complete.
Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, is the founder and chairman of Vulcan Aerospace. The aim of the company is to provide more convenient and affordable ways to access space for a wide variety of payloads and missions. The Stratolaunch will help the company achieve its goals.
The Stratolaunch will be able to carry a rocket weighing up to 275 tons and release it at 35,000 feet. The flying launchpad will deliver and release satellites in the space.
Sending satellites from rockets such as Atlas and Delta are very expensive and they also need a big launch facility. However, the Stratolaunch can land, load up and take off again, which makes space access easy and cheap.
"Stratolaunch's mobile launch range offers many potential benefits over fixed ground launch, including: improved responsiveness, flexibility to avoid inclement weather, enhanced ability to avoid overflight of populated areas and streamlined infrastructure to support efficient launch operations," says Vulcan Aerospace.
The company claims that the Stratolaunch is made of state-of-the-art composite materials, which makes it light, fuel efficient and strong.
The wingspan of the Stratolaunch is 385 feet and the length of the aircraft is 238 feet. The Stratolaunch, which has six 747 engines, will provide reliable and reusable platform capable of frequent flights. The plane has two fuselages: the right carries the flight crew and the left contains flight data.
Reports suggest that the nearly complete Stratolaunch will have the largest wingspan of any airplane ever built. It will also be the largest composite aircraft in the world.
An entire football field can fit on top of the Stratolaunch wings and there will still be more room. The plane is bigger than Hughes H-4 Hercules, also known as the Spruce Goose, which had a wing span of 320 feet. The Spruce Goose flew only once in 1947. Hopefully, it will not be the case with the Stratolaunch.
Bill Ostrove, a space systems analyst at Forecast International, suggests that the demand for Stratolaunch will be established by the plane's ability to serve the small-satellite launch market, which is very competitive.
"If Stratolaunch can figure out its strategy and develop a working rocket, it should be able to capture some business, as long as the small-satellite market continues to grow and demand for launch vehicles continues," says Ostrove.
The Vulcan Aerospace plane is expected to be finished by the end of this year. Stratolaunch is also estimated to start commercial services before 2020. The company is said to be considering partnerships with rocket companies to offer launch services.