MORE TESTS — Stratolaunch’s airplane, the largest ever built, took to the Mojave Air and Space Port runway on Wednesday for the latest in a series of taxi tests, reaching speeds of 136 mph and even demonstrating what the company dubbed a “wheelie” in a tweet touting the successful ground test.

MOJAVE — Ground testing of the world’s lar­gest airplane continued this week at the Mojave Air and Space Port, as the Stratolaunch aircraft reached speeds of 136 mph dur­ing taxi tests on the airport runway.

The high-speed tests are in preparation for the air­plane’s maiden flight, ex­pect­ed by industry watch­ers to happen sometime this year.

The massive airplane is the centerpiece of Strat­o­launch, the company formed by the late Mi­cro­soft co-founder Paul G. Allen to provide con­ve­nient, reliable access to low Earth orbit for payloads such as satellites.

Built by Mojave-based Scaled Composites, the air­craft is designed as an air­borne launch platform, car­rying a rocket to altitudes common for commercial airliners. Once at altitude, the launch vehicle is released and rockets its payload into orbit.

The twin-fuselage air­plane has a 385-foot wing­span, longer than a football field, and is powered by six jet engines.

Stratolaunch and Scaled Com­posites tweeted im­ages of the tests, including a photo showing a “wheelie” as the nose wheel lifted off the runway surface a short dis­tance.

The company, founded in 2011, announced in Aug­ust it plans to offer mul­tip­le types of rocket launch vehicles, including a reusable space plane ca­pa­ble of carrying cargo and even­tually passengers.

Stratolaunch had pre­vi­ously announced it would use the existing Pegasus XL rocket, which has flown for more than 35 successful laun­ches from a modified L-1011. This rocket, ca­pa­ble of 370 kilogram pay­loads, is expected to be ready for flight in 2020.

Stratolaunch’s own Me­di­um Launch Vehicle (MLV) and Medium Launch Vehicle-Heavy are in­tend­ed for payloads of 3,400 kilograms and 6,000 ki­lo­grams, respectively.

The MLV is in de­vel­op­ment with the first flight an­ti­ci­pated in 2022; the heavy version is in the early development phase.

Lastly, a space plane to allow for in-orbit ca­pa­bil­ities and cargo return is in the design study phase, ac­cord­ing to a Stratolaunch news release.

With the launch vehicle ca­pa­bilities, air-launched from a runway via its mas­sive carrier aircraft, the com­pany is advertising the abil­ity to send a payload into space “as easy as book­ing an airline flight,” ac­cord­ing to a Stratolaunch news release.

Scaled Composites has been developing the air­craft for more than six years. It first emerged from its specially built 92,000-square-foot hangar on the south side of the Mo­jave Air and Space Port in May 2017.

The first ground tests of the six Pratt & Whitney tur­bo­fan engines, taken from 747 airliners, were in Sep­tember.

In addition to the 385-foot wingspan, the aircraft meas­ures 50 feet to the top of its tails and 238 feet from its twin noses to tails.

The design is based on Vir­gin Galactic’s White­­Knight­­­Two, also built by Scaled Composites, and used to air-launch the Space­­­Ship­­­Two space­craft in a similar fashion. Some 300 Scaled engineers and fab­ri­cators designed, built and assembled the mam­moth air­plane, ac­cording to Scaled officials.

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