Last weekend, Stratolaunch Systems performed high-speed taxi tests of the world’s largest aircraft by wingspan. The tests represent continued progress towards the maiden flight of the plane. The Stratolaunch carrier aircraft will serve as a mobile launch platform for rockets including Orbital ATK’s Pegasus XL.
Stratolaunch was founded in 2011 by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen, with the goal of increasing access to Low Earth Orbit. The system uses an aircraft to launch rockets instead of the traditional launch pad.
Air-launch comes with a few key advantages. For example, the launch vehicle has to fly through significantly less atmosphere. Also, weather delays are not as common, as the rocket is released from an altitude above most weather systems.
Initially, Stratolaunch planned to work with SpaceX to develop a launch vehicle. The goal was to build a four or five engine variant of the Falcon rocket designed for air-launch. However, work between the companies ended in 2012, after SpaceX determined that too many modifications were required.
As a result, Orbital Sciences (now Orbital ATK) was selected to replace SpaceX. Unlike SpaceX, Orbital already had a proven air-launch vehicle in the Pegasus – a rocket with 29 successful launches in a ...