16 April, 2019
In simple terms, the Stratolaunch aircraft is a giant flying launch pad, created to hurtle satellites into low Earth orbit.
Jean Floyd, Stratolaunch Systems chief executive, said the aircraft made a "spectacular" landing that was on the mark.
Stratolaunch, the company that was founded by late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, has finally hit an important milestone in its short company history. The huge Stratolaunch has the largest wingspan in the world at 117.3 meters (384.8 feet), significantly larger than the previous record holder, the Antonov An-225 "Mriya" heavy lift cargo aircraft.
The Stratolaunch aircraft emerged from its Mojave hangar for the first time in May 2017 and proceeded through ground tests, including taxiing and rolling down a runway at near-takeoff speeds.
Allen founded Stratolaunch Systems in 2011, after funding the development of the experimental air-launched SpaceShipOne, which in 2004 became the first privately built manned rocket to reach space.
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It has been billed by the company as making satellite deployment as "easy as booking an airline flight".
The aircraft is so big its wing span is longer than a football field, or about 1.5 times that of an Airbus A380.
"It's so huge, it seems like it shouldn't be able to fly", aerospace and launch photographer for NASASpaceFlight.com Jack Beyer told CNN. It's so large that it needs two cockpits and it's powered by six Boeing 747 engines.
It is a goal for the company to soon see the large aircraft carry 250-tonne rocket ships loaded with satellites to a height of 35,000 feet, with further hopes to carry the aircraft and its satellite cargo into space.
Putting small satellites into space via airplanes also promises to be cheaper than traditional rocket launches because it eliminates the need for launch pads and all the pricey equipment and infrastructure surrounding a traditional rocket launch. According to Allen, who died October 15, 2018, this system would make satellite launches much easier and faster. The event was supported by the Stratolaunch team who were present on the grounds to celebrate the aircraft's successful first flight.