In BriefThe Stratolaunch is one of the largest airplanes ever built, and new details shared by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen reveal that the plane's purpose may extend beyond simple air travel to include carrying and launching a new reusable space shuttle.
The Stratolaunch is sizing up to be the world’s largest airplane. Last year, entrepreneur Paul Allen revealed that the plane will have a massive wingspan of 117 meters (385 feet), but since the announcement details regarding what the aircraft would be used for have been scarce — until now. New information coming from an interview Allen did with The Washington Post finally brings the plane’s purpose into focus.
Instead of making a massive plane just to be able to carry more people and cargo around the world, Allen wants to use the Stratolaunch to transport and launch a reusable space shuttle currently known internally as Black Ice.
If built, the space shuttle would be roughly the same size as the space shuttle built by NASA, and could be launched from anywhere in the world, provided that Stratolaunch could utilize a runway big enough to accommodate the plane. Black Ice would be used to carry satellites into orbit and to travel to the International Space Station (though the ISS is expected to be defunded or handed off to private companies soon).
“I would love to see us have a full reusable system and have weekly, if not more often, airport-style, repeatable operations going,” Allen said during the interview.
Essentially, the Stratolaunch would serve as launch platform and first stage of the launch, while the Black Ice would be stage two and continue its voyage using its own fuel supply. After stage two commences, the plane would land and be prepped for a future flight.
It’s still too early to say whether Black Ice is going to be built at all. Right now, all attention is on the Stratolaunch. In December, the airplane completed its low speed taxi test, demonstrating that the craft was capable of steering and stopping properly, and could safely travel down the runway at 25 knots (28 miles per hour). Its first test flight had previously been set for 2019, though The Washington Post writes it could take place later this year. Regardless of when the test flight occurs, it’s sure to be an exciting display many will tune in for.