Companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin dream of making space travel and shipments more economical. While they have mostly focused on reusable rockets, their vehicles are still limited by the same factors as any other rocket has: launching pads. To his two avians with one rock, Stratolaunch Systems Corp. devised a platform that takes of like a plane and, for the first time, gigantic aircraft not only took off but also landed safely, just like a plane.
Reusable rockets are definitely a huge money saver but the traditional way they launch and land means they can only do some from an extremely few launching facilities. If space travel and tourism are to become like what Musk and Bezos envision them to be, they need to be able to take off more frequently.
The Stratolaunch, in contrast, can take off from any regular runway, at least those that can accommodate its 385-foot wingspan. While not all runways can handle an aircraft of that size, the number is still exponentially larger than rocket-launching facilities.
Last Saturday, the Stratolaunch took off from the Mojave Air & Space Port and reached a maximum altitude of 17,000 feet. It spent 2.5 hours in the air above the Mojave Desert before returning and safely landing back to the same port. CEO Jean Floyd commented on the fantastic first flight and spoke of how founder Paul Allen would have been proud of the achievement. The tech luminary, who also co-founded Microsoft alongside Bill Gates, passed away last October.
It might look like two planes glued side by side but a luxury aircraft it is not. It is a mobile launch platform deigned to launch other vehicles, like rockets and satellites, into space. While it only reached half its ideal altitude in this first flight, the final version would be able to reach up to 35,000 feet, at which point the Stratolaunch will turn on its own rockets to continue the journey to space.