The Stratolaunch team (funded by billionaire Paul Allen) is proud to announce that our aircraft is one step closer to providing convenient, reliable, and routine access to low Earth orbit. The first test flights are planned to begin in 2017, with a goal of a commercial launch by 2020. The first flight of the carrier aircraft had been pushed back until 2018 at the earliest, with the first flight of the air-launched rocket expected at the earliest 2019.
Paul Allen and Burt Rutan stated that Stratolaunch’s carrier aircraft would have a wingspan of 117 m (385 ft) or about 6.1 m (20 ft) longer than an Apollo-era Saturn V and about half as long as the Hindenburg class airships. This would make it the largest airplane, by wingspan, ever to fly. It will weigh in at over 540,000 kg (1,200,000 lb) including the fully fueled launch vehicle and will require a runway at least 3,700 m (12,000 ft) long. It can carry over 230,000 kg (500,000 lb) of payload.
The Antonov An-225 Mriya is the current plane with the largest payload capacity. The An-224 airlifter holds the absolute world records for an airlifted single-item payload of 189,980 kilograms (418,830 pounds), and an airlifted total payload of 253,820 kg (559,580 lb). It has also transported a payload of 247,000 kg (545,000 lb) on a commercial flight. On 30 August 2016, Antonov agreed to complete the second airframe for Aerospace Industry Corporation of China.
They were originally going to launch Falcon 9 Air with a payload of 6100 kg. However, Spacex dropped out of the partnership.
They are working with Orbital ATK which used to called Orbital Sciences. They will use Pegasus rockets that are now called Stratolaunch Eagles. Orbital ATK is being bought by Northrop Grumman.
The payloads will have about 6000-10,000 pounds to low earth orbit.
We hit another important milestone this week by completing the first phase of engine testing. For the first time we started the aircraft’s six Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines.
Engine testing was conducted with a build-up approach and consisted of three phases. First as a ‘dry motor,’ where we used an auxiliary power unit to charge the engine. Next, as a ‘wet motor,’ where we introduced fuel. Finally, each engine was started one at a time and allowed to idle. In these initial tests, each of the six engines operated as expected.
The team completed fuel testing, testing all six fuel tanks to ensure proper operations. Each of the six fuel tanks were filled independently to ensure proper operations of fuel mechanisms and to validate the tanks were properly sealed.
In addition to fuel testing, we began testing the flight control system. So far we have exercised the full limits of motion and rate of deflection of control surfaces on the wing and stabilizers.
Building up to this week’s engine tests, prerequisite testing of the electrical, pneumatic, and fire detection systems were completed successfully.