The private launch company, Stratolaunch, founded by the late billionaire Paul Allen, has just flown the world’s largest aircraft for the first time. This massive airplane has a wingspan bigger than a football field and is designed to launch rockets from the air, took off on its maiden test flight from the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California.
The huge airplane, named Roc, took off at 6:58 a.m. PDT (9:58 a.m. EDT; 1358 GMT) and stayed aloft for 2.5 hours, Stratolaunch representatives said in the statement. Roc reached a peak altitude of 17,000 feet (5,180 m) and a top speed of 189 mph (304 km/h), they added. The aircraft is essentially a flying launchpad. The idea is that it will fly to 35,000 ft and then launch a satellite-bearing rocket into low-Earth orbit.
The plane was built for Stratolaunch by Scaled Composites, the Mojave-based aerospace company that also built SpaceShipOne, the first commercial suborbital spacecraft. The carrier
Initially, Stratolaunch teamed up with the spaceflight company SpaceX, which was going to build a modified version of the Falcon 9 rocket to launch from the giant carrier plane. But the two companies split within a year. Northrop Grumman) then stepped in, with a planned new rocket called Thunderbolt.
Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd said, “What a fantastic first flight, today’s flight furthers our mission to provide a flexible alternative to ground-launched systems. We are incredibly proud of the Stratolaunch team, today’s flight crew, our partners at Northrup Grumman’s Scaled Composites and the Mojave Air and Space Port.”