The Scaled Composites Model 351 Stratolaunch carrier ship—known as “Roc,” constructed from many Boeing 747 bits and bobs, and also the world’s largest airplane by wingspan—continued logging hours this week. Its fifth flight saw the craft sporting a new 8,000-pound external pylon for future payloads, and it remained aloft for around five hours, testing the landing gear doors and other functions.
Stratolaunch is a contributor to the discussion on the privatization of space travel and the development of hypersonic transit capabilities. Its civilian approach is rooted with the team and concept that won the Ansari X Prize way back in 2003, when carrier ship “White Knight” sent “SpaceShipOne” to suborbital space twice within two weeks. Partners Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites and the late Paul Allen strove to scale the system up, and Stratolaunch was announced in 2011.
Roc is basically a giant version of the White Knight, sporting a twin-boom design, a 385-foot span and six PW4056 turbofans of over 56,000-lb. thrust each. The external payload capacity should exceed 550,000 pounds, which explains how the Roc was originally intended to air -aunch the SpaceX Falcon 9 Air rocket.
Purchased by Cerberus Capital Management from Allen’s estate in 2019, Stratolaunch has focused its messaging to emphasize a mission that should “make accessing the hypersonic flight environment more routine and reliable,” using the Roc and a handful of rocket-powered Talon-A hypersonic test vehicles. Stratolaunch is based at the Mojave Air & Space Port, and incidentally, its hangar features the “world’s widest garage door,” according to the company.