When the internet did not exist, people could not have imagined having unlimited access to simply any information we now have at our fingertips. Knowledge and information were a privilege not available to everyone. Great distances had to be traveled, libraries searched, books read and scholars approached for access to knowledge and the simplest information.
When mobile phones were not yet invented, in fact, the telephone did not exist, people could not have imagined staying in touch with loved ones instantaneously. Letters and telegrams took painfully long to reach their destination and hearing someone’s voice or seeing them were only possible when you met them in person. Not anymore. The internet and smartphones have made it a matter of a click to see your loved ones and chat with them even over long distances.
Whenever an idea has not yet been conceived, it does not occur to people that one day it can become a reality. When new ideas are conceived, they seem impossible in the beginning. All new ideas, once they acquire form, are expensive and access is limited to the few and privileged. It is true for almost every revolutionary idea that has ever turned into a reality. Same is the case with space travel.
Whenever we think about space travel, we think about scientists and astronauts, space exploration for purely scientific and research reasons. It is extremely expensive and leisurely trips to space do not occur to the common man like taking the sub to the next city does. At least right now, it is not possible.
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But that can all change in the future. All new inventions and ideas are quite expensive in the beginning. But prices drop when more and more people become interested in the new tech. Mass production begins which lower the cost over time. Space travel is no exception and one day it will become accessible even to the common man.
Stratolaunch Systems is one such company that is making access to space more convenient and routine. It was founded in 2011 by Paul G. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft Corporation. Allen has been interested in space exploration since a very young age. His company is developing an air-launch platform which will make space exploration less complicated and more accessible.
The main aim of this venture is to make low Earth orbit (LEO) more accessible. A low Earth orbit is an orbit around Earth with an altitude starting from the Earth’s surface up till 2,000 kilometers. Except for the Apollo program, all human spaceflights have taken place in LEO or below. The International Space Station conducts operations in LEO. Paul G. Allen and his company believe that access to LEO holds great potential and has the ability to revolutionize our life on Earth as we know it. It would be a major breakthrough in the field of space exploration and travel and would further boost scientific progress, research, and technology from space.
Stratolaunch’s Mega Project – The Stratolaunch Aircraft
In the last 6 years, Stratolaunch Systems has been working on a mega project in connection with space travel. The company has been working on developing a giant aircraft capable of launching rockets into space. And by giant, we mean enormous, like nothing anyone has ever seen before!
On May 31st, 2017, the first looks of this giant aircraft were revealed to the world. The plane was rolled out of its hangar for the very first time in the Mojave Air and Space Port in the Mojave Desert, Calif in North America.
It has been named the Stratolaunch aircraft. The plane has a 385-foot wingspan, which makes it the largest in the world by that metric. It weighs about 500,000 pounds dry, but that can swell to a maximum take-off weight of 1.3 million pounds meaning it is capable of carrying payloads up to approximately 550,000 pounds. Stratolaunch moves all that weight across the ground on 28 wheels and eventually will carry its cargo through the air thanks to its 6 x Pratt & Whitney PW4056 engines. The aircraft is 238 feet from nose to tail and stands 50 feet tall from the ground to the top of the vertical tail.
Paul Allen’s Vision
Stratolaunch Systems has been working on this giant plane in order to further Allen’s vision for space travel and normalizing access to LEO. The purpose of making such a huge plane is to use it as an airborne rocket launcher. Instead of taking off from a launch pad, which requires lots of fuel, Stratolaunch will give rockets a head start by first carrying them up into the sky. The idea is phenomenal.
Although the Stratolaunch is the first-of-its-kind aircraft, the idea of launching rockets to space using a plane is not entirely a one-of-a-kind venture by Stratolaunch alone. Richard Branson’s company Virgin Galactic recently announced a new spin-off company by the name of Virgin Orbit, whose sole purpose will be to launch satellites to space using a 747 airplane.
But no other plane beats the Stratolaunch aircraft in size and load carrying capability so far. It is the world’s largest plane. Coming to its usage, a private spaceflight company, Orbital ATK, has already signed a deal with Stratolaunch Systems last October to use the giant plane as a launcher for its Pegasus XL rocket, which is used to send small satellites into space.
This aircraft has enormous potential and will change the way space exploration and space travel is perceived. According to Allen, it is an irony that space exploration is still so expensive and considered complicated and difficult to access. The Stratolaunch aircraft is set to change all that.
But before Stratolaunch starts doing its job, it has to go through a lot of initial tests in order to be ready for its first job. The company will first finish testing the aircraft and then make it available for use to Orbital ATK, its first customer, and all other future customers.
According to CEO Jean Floyd, Stratolaunch is on track to perform its first launch demonstration as early as 2019. The aircraft is currently being prepared for ground testing, engine runs, and taxi tests. After this, the aircraft’s first flight will take place.
Paul Allen’s first space venture, SpaceShipOne, won Allen and his partners the Ansari X Prize in 2004, a competition started by the X Prize Foundation to create the first private reusable spacecraft. SpaceShipOne also later served as the basis for the spacecraft used by Richard Branson’s spaceflight company Virgin Galactic.