The Stratolaunch aircraft differs from orthodox planes in that it boasts 28 wheels, six engines, and a 385-foot wingspan, making it the largest airplane in the world, WIRED reported. But it's the aircraft's purpose that really separates this behemoth from traditional Boeing planes: it aims to satellites into space using two fuselages.
That's right. The enormous aircraft will carry "air launch vehicles" and launch them into space before the devices fire their own rockets and shoot the rest of the way into low earth orbit.
The Stratolaunch aircraft is the spawn of Mojave, California-based Scaled Composites. In 2011, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen established Stratolaunch to make space more accessible. The development of the company's newest innovation certainly upholds that promise.
“There’s a cost advantage and also an efficacy advantage from using wings to get up to release altitude,” said John Hansman, who runs MIT’s International Center for Air Transportation.
That's because traditional rockets expend an enormous amount of energy flying straight through the lower, dense bits of the atmosphere. As the rockets move through the air, they release disposable parts when they're out of fuel.
Stratolaunch's newest aircraft, however, allow the rockets to save fuel while there are transported to higher altitudes.
Hauling massive weight isn't an issue for the large plane, which is designed to carry up to three Pegasus XL air launch vehicles, each capable of carrying a 1,000 pound satellite into the atmosphere.
The company is currently performing a myriad of tests to ensure that the engines and a taxi process runs smoothly before a crew takes the aircraft into the sky.