Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s satellite launch company just took the wraps off its new plane, and it’s an absolute monster.
Stratolaunch Systems announced Thursday that the scaffolding had now been removed as the 227,000kg aircraft, also named Stratolaunch, was allowed to rest on its own 28 wheels for the first time in order to undergo fueling tests.
“This marks the completion of the initial aircraft construction phase and the beginning of the aircraft ground and flight testing phase,” the company’s chief executive Jean Floyd said.
The double-fuselage plane is the world’s biggest by wingspan, measuring 117m against the previous record holder The Spruce Goose – which was 97.5m from wingtip to wingtip. This makes Stratolaunch’s wingspan as long as a rugby league field.
The Stratolaunch is set for payloads of up to 250,000kg, which it needs to hold equipment that will launch satellites into orbit from the normal altitude of a commercial airplane – a concept referred to as low-earth orbit.
Paul Allen wrote on a LinkedIn post last year that he was inspired by memories from second-grade of Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becoming the first man in space.
“Like millions of others, I was enthralled by the idea of space exploration, and have been ever since,” he said.
“But I would never have imagined that, more than 50 years later, access to low earth orbit would still be costly, complex and difficult. I am determined to change this to help maximise the potential of space to improve life here on earth.”
Floyd said the coming months would see all sorts of ground and air testing at the Mojave Air Space Port in California. The project is on track to do the first demonstration satellite launch “as early as 2019”.
In 1975, Allen convinced Bill Gates to drop out of Harvard University in order to establish Microsoft. Serious illness forced Allen to withdraw from day-to-day operations of the software company in 1982, but he remained on the board until 2000 and still reportedly holds shares.