The world’s new biggest airplane by wingspan has reached new top speeds on runway tests, bringing it one step closer to taking off and cementing a new milestone in aviation history.
The double-bodied Stratolaunch airplane has a wingspan of 385 feet and weighs about 500,000 lbs., making it the widest in the world, Live Science reports. In runway tests completed on February 25 at the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California, Stratolaunch clocked in a taxi speed of 46 miles per hour, according to Paul Allen, founder of Stratolaunch Systems Corp. and co-founder of Microsoft.
The humongous aircraft can carry a payload of up to 550,000 lbs., and is meant to transport rocket launchers and satellites meant for the Earth’s low orbit, according to Stratolaunch’s website.
Rockets launched from fixed locations can be delayed or stopped due to factors such as bad weather conditions, and may face hazards when in the air due to traffic. But releasing rockets and satellites from moving crafts like Stratolaunch could reduce these risks, making access to space “more convenient, reliable and routine,” says the company. The plane would take off from a runway and launch the payloads from a cruising altitude of around 36,000 feet.
Stratolaunch looks like two airplane joined by a central wing. It uses six Boeing 747 engines and has two fuselages. The one on the right is maned by a flight crew, and the one on the left has the flight data systems. The center wing connecting the two helps keep the aircraft balanced, and is the attachment point for rockets.
The massive aircraft was first trundled out in May 2017, and in September, the engines were tested for the first time. Later tests were made to improve its runway performance, and Stratolaunch is expected to be up in the air by the end of this decade.