When the Stratolaunch aircraft was first unveiled in June, 2017, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen hyped it up as the world’s largest airplane, and one that could help save time and money when helping payloads reach outer space. Although it is not yet ready for its maiden flight, reports suggest that the plane’s most recent ground test was a success.
According to the Daily Mail, the Stratolaunch completed a low-speed taxi test at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California on Sunday, as all of its six engines fired, propelling the plane down the runway at a speed of 40 knots, or 46 miles per hour. The aircraft is projected to officially debut sometime in 2019, as it helps launch satellites and other payloads into space, including the so-called “Dream Chaser,” which, according to Space.com, is slated to start delivering cargo to the International Space Station sometime next decade.
The recent test came two months after the Stratolaunch aircraft underwent its first low-speed taxi test, though as the Daily Mail noted, the aircraft was only able to travel at 25 knots, or 28 mph. With that session from December proving to be a success, Sunday’s test sought to measure the plane’s maneuverability, as a ground team monitored its steering, braking, telemetry, and anti-skid mechanisms.
— Stratolaunch (@Stratolaunch) February 26, 2018
A prepared statement from Stratolaunch Systems aircraft program manager George Bugg trumpeted the success of the past weekend’s test, as he referred to the run as “another exciting milestone” for the team behind the massive plane.
“Our crew was able to demonstrate ground directional control with nose gear steering, and our brake systems were exercised successfully on the runway. Our first low speed taxi test is a very important step toward first flight. We are all proud and excited.”
Captured new video of @Stratolaunch plane as it reached a top taxi speed of 40 knots (46 mph) with all flight surfaces in place on Sunday. The team verified control responses, building on the first taxi tests conducted in December. pic.twitter.com/OcH1ZkxZRA
— Paul Allen (@PaulGAllen) February 26, 2018
As explained in a 2017 report from the Verge, the Stratolaunch aircraft is the world’s largest airplane by virtue of its impressive 385-foot wingspan. It weighs in at 500,000 pounds without any cargo, and boasts of a maximum takeoff weight of about 1.3 million pounds. The plane is powered by six Boeing 747 engines that weigh close to 9,000 pounds each, and comes with 28 wheels that move the gigantic aircraft across the runway.
Although it remains unsure when exactly the Stratolaunch aircraft will be making its first official flight, the company behind it has some big plans for the future. Stratolaunch Systems signed a contract with Orbital ATK in 2016 for the aircraft to propel the latter company’s Pegasus XL rocket. The Daily Mail also pointed out that Stratolaunch has plans to launch a service for satellites, including those being developed by SpaceX and Google’s Terra Bella, where its eponymous aircraft will send these satellites beyond the atmosphere, with “quick and precise” satellite positioning as a key selling point.