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Largest Aircraft Stratolaunch Makes First Flight, Falcon Heavy Makes First Commercial Launch

April 23, 2019

The world’s largest airplane, Stratolaunch, made its first flight April 13th over California's Mojave Desert after eight years of development at the Mojave Air and Space Port.  It is intended to carry small rocket boosters for placing small satellites into low-Earth orbit.  Launching from the air high above ground reduces launch costs and offers flexibility over fixed ground-based launch pads.

With a 385 foot wingspan, longer than a football field, the plane was built by Northrop Grumman subsidiary Scaled Composites.  The Stratolaunch is designed with a twin fuselage and two separate tail booms (two sets of empennage).  The jet is powered by six Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines.  In comparison, a Boeing 747 uses three turbofans.

Stratolaunch Takes Flight April 13, 2019

The Stratolaunch weighs 550,000 pounds but is capable itself of a 550,000 pound payload, enough to carry up to three Pegasus rockets.  The test flight reached 15,000 feet and safely landed on its 28 wheels.

The massive jet was the main focus of Stratolaunch Systems Corporation, Seattle, a venture established in 2011 by Paul G. Allen, Microsoft co-founder.  Allen passed away six months before the flight of Stratolaunch.

On April 11th, SpaceX carried out its first commercial launch of its Falcon Heavy, the largest operating rocket of today.  It carried a communications satellite for Arabsat, a Saudi-based firm, and then landed all three of its rocket boosters for the first time.  The two side boosters landed simultaneously on pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and the center booster landed on a robotic drone ship in the Atlantic off the coast of Florida.  The Falcon Heavy is designed to lift up to 140,000 pounds into low-Earth orbit.

First Commercial Flight of the Falcon Heavy

 

Virgin Galactic completed its second spaceflight on February 22nd, earning another three-person crew their Commercial Astronaut Wings.  Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company were also presented the Space Achievement Award at the 35th National Space Symposium.