The Stratolaunch Carrier Aircraft is an in-development aircraft set to serve as a reusable space rocket / satellite release platform. The project is being headed by Vulcan Aerospace, owned Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and has been developed in conjunction with Scaled Composites (Burt Rutan). The partnership has already provided earlier fruits through the SpaceShipOne initiative of 2003. Work on Stratolaunch began in 2010 and the incomplete aircraft was unveiled to the public in a rollout ceremony at the Mojave Air and Space Port Hangar in California in May of 2017. This hangar was specially constructed for this large aircraft.
Engineers have elected for a twin-fuselage arrangement with a straight wing mainplane and the mainplane is divided into three major sections that include outboard planes as well as a conjoining central plane located between the fuselages. The fuselages are slab-sided and each hold an inline retractable wheeled undercarriage. Twenty-wheels dot the undercarriage which sports multiple legs with multiple bogies per set. At the rear of the fuselages are traditional single-finned tail units. Each fuselage also contains a flight deck at the usual nose position with a commanding view over the approach. Six Pratt & Whitney PW4056 turbofan engines (air-breathing) of 56,750lb thrust each are used to power the aircraft with three of these nacelles underslung at each outboard mainplane's leading edge. Cargo will be held centrally at hardpoints located under the central wing mainplane.
Dimensions of Stratolaunch includes an overall length of 238 feet and a wingspan of 385 feet - the widest of any aircraft ever constructed. Comparatively the Soviet-Ukrainian Antonov An-225 (detailed elsewhere on this site) is longer at 275 feet. However, the wingspan of Stratolaunch bests Howard Hughes' classic transport, the H-4 "Spruce Goose" (detailed elsewhere on this site), which carried a 320-foot wingspan.
Stratolaunch will take-off and land from conventional runways under its own power though, due to its size, the aircraft will require some 12,000 feet of runway distance during its take-off action. Cargo loads will be flown up to 35,000 feet for release into Low Earth Orbit. The aircraft is listed with a payload capability of 500,000lb and has n estimated range out to 2,300 miles.
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September 2017 - It was announced that the Stratolaunch vehicle has completed its engine tests ahead of taxi trials - which are tentatively scheduled for before the end of the year.
January 2019 - While the Stratolaunch Systems Carrier is nearing its first-flight over Mojave, California, the company has nixed plans to develop the planned family of rocket engines and launchers that would have bee deployed from the mothership.
April 2019 - The Stratolaunch Systems Carrier recorded its first flight on April 14th, 2019. The outing, a complete success, reached speeds near 175 miles-per-hour and flew up to altitude of 15,000 feet. The flight lasted 2.5 hours.
June 2019 - With the death of owner Paul Allen in 2018, the assets of Vulcan Aerospace are now for sale - including the Stratolaunch carrier.
October 2019 - The Stratolaunch project is under new ownership as work on the program may be restarted before the end of the year.
Vulcan Aerospace / Scaled Composites - USA Manufacturer(s)
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