After first putting weight on wheels this spring, the Stratolaunch completed its first taxi tests over the weekend—steering from the cockpit and moving under its own power. Joe Sweat, one of the project’s test pilots, said of the event, “It was a lot less intimidating once we had it out there, in terms of how much runway we take up. From a visual standpoint, we had a lot more room than I was anticipating. Getting the airplane moving under its own power was really interesting – just seeing and feeling how the nosewheel steering reacts and how the brakes respond to the inputs.”
The colossal twin-fuselage aircraft, built by Scaled Composites, is projected to be—by wingspan—the largest aircraft to have ever taken flight, at 385 feet wide. The prototype has a 500,000-pound empty weight, a target maximum takeoff weight of 1.3 million pounds and is powered by six turbofans scavenged from Boeing 747-400s. Stratolaunch is hoping to reduce the cost to put satellites in orbit. By carrying a rocket up to the stratosphere, the size of the rocket can be reduced or the payload enlarged. The Stratolaunch also facilitates entry to a more diverse set of possible orbital inclinations than a fixed-site missile range.