A new era is dawning in the field of launching satellites by means of aircraft. It is a mega-jet with six engines designed by a team at Stratolaunch Systems and they conducted a successful test flight over the Mojave Desert. The gigantic aircraft could, in future, dispense with ground launches of small satellites by providing an alternative in the form of an aerial launch. The aircraft can be considered as a giant flying launch pad that can put satellites into low Earth orbit economically. It will make available additional options to agencies involved in activities related to outer space.

CNN reports that Stratolaunch was founded in 2011 by the late Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen. CEO Jean Floyd, at a news conference, said - "We finally did it. It was an emotional moment to watch this bird take flight." Allen passed away last October at the age of 65 after a brief illness

Performance of the aircraft was OK

The test flight lasted for nearly two-and-a-half-hours and the Stratolaunch attained a speed of 173 mph, climbed to an altitude of 15,000 feet and landed back safely. The test pilot was a former F-16 Air Force fighter pilot.

This aircraft heralds a new age in the space industry by using jets to launch satellites. The industry is curious to know the advantages and economics tops the list. Normally, rockets are used to launch satellites but aerial launch does away with the need for launch pads and associated infrastructure.

CNN says the Stratolaunch would save on fuel costs because the fuel consumption of an aircraft is less when compared to the fuel required to blast off a traditional rocket.

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This will be a big gain. Other positives are less dependency on weather, which is always unpredictable. There have been instances of delayed launches in the past because of bad weather. Incidentally, the project could face competition from Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Orbit company. It also has similar ideas with its LauncherOne service that will use a customized Boeing 747-400.

Sir Branson plans to conduct the first launch of his service at Mojave "in the middle of the year."

Breaking new ground

According to CNBC, the maiden test flight of Stratolaunch, the largest airplane in the world, over California’s Mojave Desert opened a new chapter in space exploration. The aircraft is enormous with two fuselages and six Boeing 747 engines and is built to launch rockets from the air. The concept is unique because the aircraft will carry rockets up to about 35,000 feet and launch it from there into space. Such a system will provide greater flexibility and, eventually, make for a quick turnaround between launches. It could make ground launch systems redundant for small satellites.