Back in June, Stratolaunch pulled its aircraft out of the hanger to conduct aircraft fueling tests. It was exciting, because it meant the aircraft, which has a wingspan 25-feet longer than a football field (385 feet), had finally moved beyond the initial construction phase.
Stratolaunch was founded in 2011 by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who is using his massive fortune to try and provide easy access to low Earth orbit. His hope is that it will help make significant advancements in science, research, and technology. With the ability to carry payloads up to 550,000 pounds, that’s a lot of low-Earth R&D.
This week, the company hit another milestone when it completed the first phase of engine testing after firing up the aircraft's six Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines.
The company conducted a three-phase engine test. The first phase was a "dry motor" test that used an auxiliary power unit to charge the engine. In the second phase, they used fuel for a "wet motor" test. During the final phase, the company started each engine, one at a time, and had them idle for a bit. Each engine operated as expected, and further testing will continue.
Prior to this week's tests, the craft successfully passed tests of the electrical, pneumatic, and fire detection systems.
According to a blog post from company CEO Jean Floyd, the past few months have been productive. Fuel testing is now finished, which consisted of testing the aircraft’s six fuel tanks to make sure that they filled independently and were properly sealed.
The hope is that the aircraft can begin taxi tests within the next few months, and the company plans to perform its first launch demonstration as early as 2019.