Stratolaunch Systems has successfully conducted a test of all six engines on the Stratolaunch, the largest airplane in the world. The Pratt and Whitney engines were first charged with an auxiliary power unit (APU) in a process known as a “Dry Test.” Fuel was then introduced in a “Wet Test” and the engines were successfully turned on and allowed to idle before being shut off. According to the Stratolaunch team, all engines operated as expected.
After being rolled out of the hangar earlier this year, the Stratolaunch has undergone various ground and flight line tests. Over the next several months, the Stratolaunch will conduct more engine tests at higher power levels before graduating to taxi tests.
Funded by billionaire Paul Allen, the Stratolaunch is part of a raft of new startups hawking quick and cheap access to space. The Stratolaunch, along with other firms such as Virgin Orbit, Orbital ATK, Zero2Infinity, and CloudIX, offers air launch services, a system where rockets are dropped by aircraft (or balloons) at high altitude before blasting off into space. Air launches cut down drastically on launch costs and do not have to contend with weather delays. Another benefit of a mobile launch platform is the rapid turnaround that can be achieved between launches.
Air launches have typically been constrained by payload size as aircraft are not built to carry commercial rockets. Unlike Orbital ATK and Virgin Orbit, which both use modified passenger aircraft for their air launches, the Stratolaunch has been designed for the express purpose of carrying rockets. As a result of its impressive size, the Stratolaunch will be able to carry up tro three Orbital ATK Pegasus XL rockets, which Orbital currently launches one-at-a-time from a modified L-1011 Tri-Star. First launch of the Pegasus XL from the Stratolaunch is expected in 2019.
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