A huge aircraft – designed to act as a flying launch pad for satellites – has made its first successful flight.
The plane has a wingspan of 385 ft long, or the length of an American football field. It’s hoped it will be able to fly to a height of 10 km, before releasing satellites into orbit. On its maiden flight the twin-fuselage six-engine jet flew up to 15,000 ft and reached speeds of about 274 km.
After touching down, Pilot Evan Thomas told reporters the experience was "fantastic" and that "for the most part, the airplane flew as predicted.”
The aircraft was built by Stratolaunch, the company set up by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 2011. On its website the company says its aim is to "make access to orbit as routine as catching a commercial airline flight is today."
Stratolaunch describes its vessel as the "world's largest plane" but there are aircraft which are longer from nose to tail.
If successful, such a project would be a cheaper way to launch objects into space than rockets fired from the ground.
British billionaire Richard Branson's company Virgin Galactic has also developed aircraft that launch rockets into orbit from great height.