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article imageWorld's largest airplane may be grounded after just one flight

By Karen Graham     Jun 4, 2019 in Business
Stratolaunch Systems Corporation, the space company founded by late billionaire and Microsoft Corp co-founder Paul Allen, is closing operations, four people familiar with the matter said on Friday.
Stratolaunch is a unit of Allen’s privately held investment vehicle Vulcan Inc. The company has been developing a portfolio of launch vehicles that includes the world's largest airplane by wingspan, for launching satellites and eventually humans into space.
The Stratolaunch aircraft, called ROC, weighs about 500,000 pounds (227,000 kilograms) and is be powered by six 205–296 kN (46,000–66,500 lbf) thrust-range jet engines. The dual-fuselage plane is double-bodied and it boasts the largest wingspan of any aircraft in the world. The massive carrier plane's wingspan of 385-feet is longer than an entire football field.
Microsoft co-founder and longtime space enthusiast Paul Allen established Stratolaunch in 2011. But the billionaire died last October at the age of 65, and his sister Jody — the chair of Stratolaunch parent venture Vulcan Inc. and trustee of the Paul G. Allen Trust — decided to "set an exit strategy" late last year, according to Reuters.
The Stratolaunch aircraft came out of the hangar on May 31  2017  – for the first time ever – to...
The Stratolaunch aircraft came out of the hangar on May 31, 2017, – for the first time ever – to conduct aircraft fueling tests
Stratolaunch
Reuters broke the story on Friday, citing four sources and also a fifth person. The sources all spoke on condition of anonymity, as did the fifth person, citing the confidential nature of the matter.
"Jody Allen decided to let the carrier aircraft fly on April 13 this year to honor her brother’s wishes and also to prove the vehicle and concept worked, one of the four people said," Reuters wrote.
That flight took place at the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California. During the ROC's first test flight, the plane reached a peak altitude of 17,000 feet (5,180 meters) and a top speed of 189 mph (304 km/h), Stratolaunch Systems representatives said at the time.
The project is a mobile launch system with three primary components; a carrier aircraft being built ...
The project is a mobile launch system with three primary components; a carrier aircraft being built by Scaled Composites, a multi-stage payload "launch vehicle" which would be launched at high altitude into space from under the carrier aircraft, plus a mating and integration system by Dynetics.
Stratolaunch Systems Corp.
It's difficult to determine if Stratolaunch is indeed, closing down operations, based on "unknown sources." A spokesman for Northrop Grumman Corp, which owns Scaled Composites, the main contractor for Stratolaunch’s carrier plane, declined to comment on Stratolaunch's operations.
However, in an emailed statement in January, Stratolaunch told Geek Wire it was discontinuing its programs to develop a new type of rocket engine and a new line of rockets, but will continue to work on its huge, double-bodied plane designed to serve as a flying launch pad for rockets.
“Stratolaunch is ending the development of their family of launch vehicles and rocket engine. We are streamlining operations, focusing on the aircraft and our ability to support a demonstration launch of the Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL air-launch vehicle. We are immensely proud of what we have accomplished and look forward to the first flight in 2019," read the email.
Paul Allen is seen during a 2006 event at the US Capitol in Washington where he spoke about the comp...
Paul Allen is seen during a 2006 event at the US Capitol in Washington where he spoke about the completion of the Allen Brain Atlas, a neuroscience initiative
MARK WILSON, Getty Images North America/AFP/File
While Stratolaunch did not comment any further on the news, sources who are not employed by the company, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Geek Wire more than 50 employees were being laid off as part of the streamlining plan.
"Stratolaunch remains operational," a company spokesperson told Space.com via email on Friday. "We will provide an update when there is news to share."
More about stratolaunch, Paul allen, closing operations, Vulcan Inc, honoring Allen
 
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