The extraordinary ‘Stratolaunch’ is the largest airplane you’ve ever seen

stratolaunch airplane unveiled
Vulcan Aerospace
If you’ve ever seen an Airbus 380 up close, you’ll likely have dropped some colorful language in commenting on how massive it is. But for the recently unveiled Stratolaunch aircraft, you’re going to have to search for language that’s even more colorful, for this particular plane, with its wingspan of 385 feet and its 28 wheels, is supposed to be the largest in the world.

The gargantuan aircraft, which thanks to its twin fuselage makes it look rather like two planes welded together, was hauled out of a Mojave Air and Space Port hangar in California this week to begin preparations for a series of ground-based tests.

Designed by Vulcan Aerospace — a company launched in 2015 by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen — the Stratolaunch is 250 feet long and stands 50 feet high. It can carry a payload weighing up to 550,000 pounds, and uses six engines typically used by a Boeing 747 to power it along.

It’s not a passenger plane, nor a ridiculously ostentatious private jet for Mr. Allen, but instead an aircraft designed especially for releasing rockets that will carry satellites into space.

The Stratolaunch, rather like the rocket systems designed by SpaceX and Blue Origin, focuses on reusability as a cost-effective way of launching space missions. Allen’s design, however, clearly differs in that it takes an “airport-style approach.” The plane is designed to carry a rocket on the underside of its central wing, releasing it when it reaches around 35,000 feet. Such a system would thereby incur lower fuel costs than a rocket launched from the ground. Also, with its 2,000-mile range, it will have greater flexibility over where it can take off and land compared to fixed-location rocket launches. The system thus “significantly reduces the risk of costly delays or cancellations,” the team says on its website.

With the likes of SpaceX and Blue Origin in mind, Allen says that the Stratolaunch will offer its customers “a consistent, flexible, and viable alternative to traditional ground-launched rockets.”

Cheaper access to low-Earth orbit, Allen explains in a blog post, would allow the launch of more satellites for scientific research and monitoring, though it’s not clear how the Stratolaunch’s running costs will compare to rival systems.

If tests over the coming weeks and months go according to plan, the enormous Stratolaunch could take to the skies as early as 2019. And that’s something we can’t wait to see.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robots that eat landmines and clean your floors

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!
Deals

It’s time to check out the best Apple Watch deals for April 2019

The Apple Watch has surged to prominence in recent years. If you're in the market for an iOS wearable, we've sniffed out the best Apple Watch deals available right now for all three models of this great smartwatch.
Music

YouTube Red is now YouTube Premium. What's changed, and should you subscribe?

Thanks to Google, YouTube Red is now YouTube Premium. We explain what exactly a YouTube Premium subscription gets you, how much it costs, and break down if it's a good choice for you.
Gaming

Brace yourself. Sony’s PlayStation 5 is going to be expensive

How much will Sony's PlayStation 5 cost? Official pricing will stay under wraps for months, but early details provide enough information to make a guess. Our estimate suggests the price will be higher than fans expect to pay.
Emerging Tech

SpaceX’s main Falcon Heavy booster is lost at sea after falling off drone ship

SpaceX has lost the center core of its Falcon Heavy rocket after a successful mission last week that ended with it landing on a drone ship. SpaceX said rough seas resulted in the rocket toppling over and falling into the ocean.
Emerging Tech

Star gives off superflare equal to 80 billion megatonnes of TNT. That’s a lot

A tiny star the size of Jupiter has been observed giving off a massive superflare 10 times more powerful than any flare from our Sun. The findings are raising questions about how much energy small stars can hold.
Emerging Tech

The grid of the future will be powered by … giant subterranean bagpipes?

In order to transition to a more renewable-focused energy system, we need to scale up our grid storage capacity --- and our existing methods aren't going to cut it. Could compressed air be the key?
Emerging Tech

SpaceX experiences problem during test, Crew Dragon capsule may have exploded

SpaceX has experienced a problem during the testing of its Crew Dragon capsule. During the engine test firing at Cape Canaveral yesterday afternoon, an unspecified anomaly occurred which lead to plumes of smoke rising from the test site.
Emerging Tech

Beresheet crash caused by manual command, but reflector device may have survived

Details are emerging about what may have gone wrong with spacecraft Beresheet's failed moon landing. A manual command was entered which led to a chain reaction. But NASA still hopes to salvage use of its Laser Retroreflector Array device.
Emerging Tech

The oldest type of molecule in the universe has been located at last

A milestone in the development of the early universe was the combination of helium and hydrogen atoms into a molecule called helium hydride. But strangely enough, this ancient molecule has never been detected in space before now.
Emerging Tech

Mercury’s wobble as it spins reveals that it has an inner solid core

Scientists have long wondered what the inside of Mercury looks like, and they now have strong evidence that the planet has a large and solid metallic core. The data for the new findings was collected by the now-defunct MESSENGER mission.
Emerging Tech

Gravitational forces at heart of Milky Way shaped this star cluster like a comet

Hubble has captured the stunning Messier 62 cluster. The cluster is warped, with a long tail which stretches out to form a shape like a comet. It is thought this distortion is due to Messier 62's proximity to the center of the galaxy.
Emerging Tech

Burgers are just the beginning: Embracing the future of lab-grown everything

You’ve almost certainly heard of the 'farm to fork' movement, but what about 'lab to table'? Welcome to the fast-evolving world of lab-grown meat. Is this the future of food as we know it?
Emerging Tech

Troubleshooting Earth

It’s no secret that humans are killing the planet. Some say it’s actually so bad that we’re hurtling toward a sixth major extinction event -- one which we ourselves are causing. But can technology help us undo the damage we’ve…