World’s largest aircraft to launch satellites

New York: A new startup launched by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is building the world’s largest aircraft, bigger than the Colossus Antonov An-225, the reigning heavy weight champion among aircraft. With a gargantuan wingspan of 385 feet (117 m) and six engines, the plane is taking a new approach in the private space race, by launching satellites and spacecraft into orbit from high altitude.

The craft will be larger than Howard Hughes’ 1947 H-4 Hercules, known as the ‘Spruce Goose,’ and the enormous Antonov An-225, a Soviet-era cargo plane originally built to transport the Buran space shuttle that is currently the world’s largest aircraft. Stratolaunch Systems is part of Allen’s privately owned Vulcan Aerospace, with the plane’s launch coinciding with a surge of new businesses planning to sell Internet access, Earth imagery, climate data and other services from networks of hundreds of satellites in low-altitude orbits around Earth.

Instead of a satellite, the Stratolaunch airplane could launch a Dream Chaser spaceship. This could act as a mini-shuttle to reach low Earth orbit destinatations and return astronauts or payloads to runway within 24 hours.