The commercial focus of the space sector continues to lead to interesting and innovative initiatives, as engineers attempt to industrialise technology which has so far belonged to large and well-funded government agencies such as NASA and the ESA.
The latest is Stratolaunch Systems’ air-launch technology. The company, which has been set up by SpaceShipOne veterans Paul Allen and Burt Rutan, aims to build the world’s largest aircraft to fly payloads up to the stratosphere, where they can be launched more reliably and less expensively into space.
The mega aircraft, flight tests of which are expected to begin in 2016, will use six 747 engines, have a gross weight of more than 1.2 million pounds and a wingspan of more than 380 feet. For take-off and landing, it will require a runway 12,000 feet long. Systems on board the launch aircraft will conduct the countdown and firing of the booster and will monitor the health of the orbital payload.
Eventually, once reliability and functionality is proved by launching satellites, the company wants to launch manned flights into space.
The concept isn’t new, and is already being done by companies such as Orbital, but the scale of Allen and Rutan’s plans, and their team’s reputation, means the aerospace industry and critics are taking Stratosphere Systems seriously. It’s certainly exciting to see new areas of the aerospace industry being pioneered in your own lifetime, and the video makes for great viewing.