MOJAVE DESERT – A giant six-engine aircraft with the world’s longest wingspan completed what company officials called a superb initial flight over California’s Mojave Desert on Saturday.
The behemoth, twin-fuselage Stratolaunch jet lifted off from Mojave Air and Space Port early Saturday and climbed into the desert sky 70 miles (112 kilometres) north of Los Angeles.
The jet flew two and a half hours, achieving a maximum speed of 189 miles per hour (304 kilometres per hour) and altitudes up to 17,000 feet (5,181 metres), the company said.
The test flight brought to life a dream held by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen, who founded the Stratolaunch Systems Corporation in 2011.
The company is vying to be a contender in the market for air-launching small satellites.
Powered by the same type of engines used by Boeing 747s, the Stratolaunch is designed to take off at a maximum weight of 1.3 million pounds (589,676 kilogrammes).
Its twin fuselages – sort of the airplane equivalent of a catamaran – are 238 feet (72.5 metres) long.
The aircraft is designed to carry as many as three satellite-laden rockets at a time under the center of its enormous wing, which stretches 385 feet (117 metres) – a longer wingspan than any other aircraft.
At an altitude of 35,000 feet (10,668 metres), the rockets would be released, ignite their engines and soar into space.
The advantages of such air-launch systems include being able to use numerous airports and avoid the limitations of fixed launch sites which can be impacted by weather, air traffic, and ship traffic on ocean ranges.
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