1. With a wingspan of 117 metres, the Stratolaunch is nearly more than double the width of a Boeing 747. It boasts two identical fuselages, six Pratt & Whitney engines on 28 wheels, and what amounts to three wings—one in the center. Its total weight? An impressive 580 tonnes.
2. The Stratolaunch may be the largest plane in the world by wingspan, but it takes off and lands from a runway just like any other aircraft. Once it reaches a cruising altitude of about 10 kilometres, one or more launch vehicles are released. This enables rapid constellation deployment to different inclinations. As the launch vehicles ascend into orbit, the Stratolaunch heads back to the runway to reload for its next mission. It can also fly around the bad weather that might ground a rocket taking off from a stationary pad.
3. The flying leviathan is a brainchild of the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. His hope was that this extraordinary aircraft will be able to do quick laps between the ground and the stratosphere, making access to space no more exotic than a commercial flight from New York to Boston.
4. The Stratolaunch will have a range of 2,000 nautical miles, similar to that of an Airbus A319. Its engines, along with some of its landing gear and flight deck, were “cannibalised” from two out-of-service Boeing 747s to cut back on development costs.
5. The aircraft has been in development since 2011. After being rolled out of its custom-made hangar in 2017, it completed its first high-speed taxi test in 2018. Further development will hopefully enable the potential space rocket carrier to take to the skies some time in 2019.