Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) expanded its commercial space portfolio with Stratolaunch Systems' recent selection of Scaled Composites, a Northrop Grumman subsidiary, to build the largest aircraft ever constructed. This is the latest example of the company's innovative solutions to challenging problems. Scaled Composites is developing an air-launch system for Stratolaunch Systems, which is a Paul G. Allen project that will revolutionize space transportation by providing orbital access to space at lower costs, greater safety and increased flexibility.
"This private spaceflight initiative represents a significant leap forward in defining technologies today which will open doors tomorrow for affordable commercial space transportation," said Paul Meyer, vice president and general manager of advanced programs and technologies for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. "Whether it be manned and unmanned aircraft, space systems or advanced technologies, we are focused on developing innovative solutions that enable the growth of the aerospace industry."
With a gross takeoff weight of more than 1.2 million pounds, the carrier aircraft will have a wingspan of 385 feet - greater than the length of a football field - and takeoff and land from a runway that is at least 12,000 feet long. Using six 747 engines, the aircraft will fly over 1,300 nautical miles to reach an optimal launch point for 10,000 pound-class payloads. The development work will take place in Mojave, Calif.
The Stratolaunch project marks the next step in space travel that began with the development of SpaceShip One, the first privately funded manned spacecraft to fly beyond the earth's atmosphere.
SpaceShip One and its carrier aircraft, White Knight, were developed through a joint venture between investor Paul Allen and Scaled Composites, which was founded by Burt Rutan and later acquired by Northrop Grumman. On June 21, 2004, SpaceShip One made its historic flight to space and four months later, was the first private manned spacecraft to exceed an altitude of 328,000 feet twice within 14 days, earning it the prestigious $10 million Ansari X-Prize. The technology behind SpaceShip One has since been leveraged into efforts with business entrepreneur Richard Branson of Virgin Group to create a space launch system for Virgin Galactic, a venture that will take paying customers into suborbital space.
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