The race for space has multiple billionaires trying their ideas to get there first. On this episode, we’ll take a look at the World’s Largest Airplane.

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On December 13th, 2011 Paul G. Allen billionaire, early investor of Microsoft, owner of the Portland Trail Blazers, Seattle Seahawks and numerous other companies and patents announced to the world the creation of Stratolaunch Systems.  This new company set out to create The Stratolaunch, the plane we see here which is designed to carry a rocket propelled launch vehicle into the the sky.

This rocket vehicle would detach from the stratolaunch and using it’s rocket booster propel itself the rest of the way into space.  This company and the stratolaunch design is a continuing effort of the SpaceShipOne program from back in 2004. 

Being the new world’s largest airplane by wingspan, no plane has surpassed the wingspan of the Spruce Goose or the Howard Hughes H-4 Hercules since it claimed the record 71 years ago. The Spruce Goose was designed during the war as a heavy cargo transport plane and only flew once for 26 seconds before it was retired.

With a wingspan measuring 385 feet or 117 meters the Stratolaunch is a twin fuselage plane that is 238 feet or 72 meters in length. In comparison the double decker Airbus A380 is only 262 feet or 80 meters wide.

Built in Mojave California this plane needed a custom built hanger for it to fit inside. Powered by 6 Pratt & Whitney PW4000 jet engines the same ones used on 747s. These engines along with much of the avionics, flight deck, landing gear and other systems were taken from 2 used 747-400s to reduce the production cost of this plane.

The Stratolaunch weighs in at over 1.2 million lbs or 540,000 kg which includes the fully fueled launch vehicle and can carry payload up to 500,000 lbs or 230,000 kg. The runway required to launch such a vehicle needs to be at least 12,000 feet or 3700 meters long. The estimated development cost of the Stratolaunch is 300 million dollars with the number rising daily.

Offering a range of 1,200 nmi or 2,200 km this plane will carry up to 3 Pegasus XL rockets. They are ready to fly but have reached a bottleneck with their rocket vehicle. Originally going to be designed and produced by SpaceX, the Falcon Air would be hanging below this plane. This didn’t pan out with SpaceX and was cancelled in late 2012. 

Orbital Sciences Corp. had already developed the Pegasus launch system which became the right partner for the job. They have a medium launch vehicle a heavy vehicle and a space plane in development but the earliest completion of the heavy launch vehicle would be 2022 leaving the Stratolaunch sitting around waiting for until then. The Pegasus XL being currently available may be launched into orbit off the Stratolaunch and apparently they can strap 3 of them onto the Stratolaunch at once. The booster rockets will be released at 30,000 feet or 9000 meters at which point they’ll carry satellite payload into space.

This method of launching rockets into space is referred to as an airlaunch as opposed to what SpaceX which is a ground launch vehicle. Eventually one of the goals would be to launch the space plane called Black Ice from the Stratolaunch. The Black Ice is believed to be a way for the average person to take a flight into space to enjoy.


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Intro music thanks to Machinmasound:
Rallying the Defense:

#stratolaunch #nasa #spacex 


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