This week, private spaceflight company Stratolaunch tested out the turbofan engines on its behemoth aircraft for the first time — all six of them. The engines were filled with fuel and allowed to idle one at a time at the company’s facility at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. All six worked as expected, according to Stratolaunch.
It’s another big step for the company, helmed by Microscoft co-founder Paul Allen, as it readies the massive plane for flight. Boasting two fuselages and a wingspan wider than a football field, it’s currently the world’s largest aircraft, weighing 500,000 pounds when empty and unfueled. However, the company claims it will have a maximum takeoff weight of 1.3 million pounds.
Boasting a wingspan wider than a football field
Ultimately, Stratolaunch hopes to use the plane as a launch platform. The aircraft is designed to carry rockets, which will sit attached underneath the wing connecting the two fuselages. Once the plane reaches a certain altitude, the rocket is meant to detach and ignite its engine, carrying its payload the rest of the way into space. Thanks to its massive size, the plane is capable of carrying payloads up to 550,000 pounds.
However, the company is going to start out small at first. Stratolaunch signed a deal last year to launch Orbital ATK’s Pegasus XL rocket from the plane. Designed to launch from the air, the Pegasus is a fairly small rocket, capable of launching satellites weighing up to 1,000 pounds. It’s also perfectly capable of launching from a much smaller plane than the Stratolaunch one.
Still, it’ll be a while before any rockets are taking off with Stratolaunch. The company just rolled the plane out of its hangar for the first time in May, and the company still has a lot of tests to do on the engines before any big moves can begin. “Over the next few months, we will continue to test the aircraft’s engines at higher power levels and varying configurations, culminating to the start of taxi tests,” the company said in a statement.