Expected to take to the skies for the first time next year, the world's largest plane last week successfully completed its latest low-speed taxi test, firing all six of its Pratt and Whitney 4000 kg turbofan engines.
Called the Stratolaunch, the aircraft with a wingspan longer than a football field will help to fire satellites and other objects into space, including a 'Dream Chaser' spaceship that could
shuttle astronauts or payloads to and from low Earth orbit within 24 hours.
The latest test, which took place at California's Mojave Air and Space Port, involved checking the aircraft’s ability to steer and stop through its paces.
Cargo to fly faster from Earth to space
The plane is the brainchild of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen who envisions the Stratolaunch to act as a giant air pad in the sky, allowing payloads to reach space faster and at a lower cost than existing technologies.
The Stratolaunch has two fuselages each with its own 'cockpit', forming a bizarre 'H' shape under its wings, which stretch 117m tip to tip.
The three-person crew - pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer - will sit in the right-hand fuselage, steering the plane a fair distance to the right of the centreline. The left-hand fuselage is empty and unpressurised.
Hub in the desert
The Stratolaunch weighs approximately 500,000 pounds without any cargo.
Since the first engine runs in September, the Stratolaunch team has performed a series of engine tests from a newly established Stratolaunch Mission Control Center (MCC) located at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.
The MCC serves as the Seattle-based firm's hub for testing communications and will eventually be the centre of its aircraft and launch operations.
Nol van Fenema