The world’s largest airplane took flight for the first time ever on Saturday morning. Stratolaunch, a 500,000-pound plane with a 385-foot wingspan that is built to send rockets into orbit around the Earth, lifted off shortly after 10AM ET from Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California.
The inaugural flight is expected to last a few hours. It comes just three months after Stratolaunch Systems, the company behind the effort, laid off “more than 50” employees and canceled efforts to develop its own rockets. The change in plans was reportedly sparked by the death of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who started Stratolaunch Systems in 2011.
— Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer) April 13, 2019
The duel-fuselage Stratolaunch is designed to fly to an altitude of 35,000 feet, where it can drop rockets that ignite their engines and boost themselves into orbit around the planet. The company has already signed at least one customer in Orbital ATK, which plans to use Stratolaunch to send its Pegasus XL rocket into space.
The road to today’s launch involved a number of incremental tests over the last few years, including the initial rollout and an engine test in 2017, and a number of taxis down the runway in Mojave at various speeds.
— D. Stamos/Helodriver (@SpacecoastPix) April 13, 2019