The largest plane ever built — the mighty Stratolaunch — is scheduled to take to the skies within the next few months.
The colossal aircraft, backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, is so big, it requires two cockpits and six jet engines just to get it off the ground.
With a wingspan longer than a football field at 385 feet, it will eventually be used to transport rockets carrying satellites and astronauts into Earth’s upper atmosphere.
At the 34th Space Symposium in Colorado, Stratolaunch revealed it’s now preparing for the plane’s maiden flight this summer.
It has already gone through two taxi tests in the past few months, with top speeds of 28 mph and 46 mph.
Three more tests are planned to see if can reach the required takeoff speed of 138 mph.
Last summer, billionaire Allen revealed the visionary firm’s ambitious plans for the giant record-breaking aircraft.
He told the Washington Post, “I would love to see us have a full reusable system and have weekly, if not more often, airport-style, repeatable operations going.”
When asked about the possibility of manned missions, Allen added: “If you caught the bug back in the Mercury era, of course, it’s in the back of your mind.
“But I think you’re seeing right now, other than [space station] resupply missions, most spaceflights are about launching satellites. That’s the reality.”
As well as sending cargo to space, the plane could be used to launch a secretive shuttle-size rocket codenamed “Black Ice.”
Company officials at the conference confirmed that the “Black Ice” concept is still under study but offered few details about it.
Stratolaunch plans to release more details about that “spectrum of services” in the next several months leading up to the plane’s first flight.
In the latest low-speed taxi test, conducted on Feb. 25, 2018, all six of its 8,940-pound engines were fired.
The main purpose of that test, which took place at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port, was to put the aircraft’s ability to steer and stop through its paces.
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