On Saturday morning, the hulking Stratolaunch aircraft took to the skies for the very first time in a brief but majestic test flight. Designed to eventually carry rockets between its twin fuselages for high-altitude launch, the 385-foot wide, six-engine craft took off without cargo for its maiden voyage, reaching speeds of 189 miles per hour, and soaring to heights of 17,000 feet in the two-and-a-half-hour flight.
The tests come after a long series of taxi tests that always stopped just short of achieving actual flight, but now that threshold has been crossed, and the engineers seem pleased with the results.
“What a fantastic first flight,” Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd said in a press statement. “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.”
While the enormous craft’s flight might be impressive enough on its own, the Stratolaunch will surely be more impressive with its intended cargo. The Stratolaunch is designed to, eventually, carry Orbital ATK’s “Pegasus XL” rockets which have previous been launched from a more conventionally-designed aircraft called the “Stargazer.” But unlike the Stargazer, which maxes out at a load of a single rocket, the Stratolaunch has set its sights on carrying as many as three at a time, though it will almost certainly start with just one. Further off in the future, rumour has it, Stratolaunch is planning its own rocket design and a reusable spaceplane.
For now, however, Stratolaunch is flying high on this major success, though it comes after the untimely death of one of the company’s co-founders, Paul Allen. Odds are it will only get more impressions from here on out.
Originally published on Popular Mechanics