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Transportation Businesses Microsoft Space

Microsoft Co-Founder Paul Allen Unveils World's Biggest Plane (seattletimes.com) 147

Frosty Piss quotes a report from The Seattle Times: The huge Stratolaunch finally rolled out of its hangar in Mojave, Calif., Wednesday for the first time. Built by Paul Allen's Scaled Composites, the twin hulled monster will go through months of ground tests before a first flight. Jean Floyd, chief executive at Stratolaunch Systems, said in a statement that the empty airplane, powered by six used 747 engines, weighs approximately 500,000 pounds. The jet will have a three-person crew: pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer in the flight deck of the starboard fuselage, while the port fuselage cockpit is empty and unpressurized. Stratolaunch is intended to carry a rocket slung beneath the central part of the wing, between the two fuselages, and release it at 35,000 feet. The concept is that the rocket will then launch into space and deliver satellites into orbit.
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Microsoft Co-Founder Paul Allen Unveils World's Biggest Plane

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  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday June 03, 2017 @05:11AM (#54541315) Homepage Journal

    TFA doesn't load at all if you don't permit Javascript, because it is not a web page. Wired is offering an actual web page on the same subject [wired.com], which is more suitable for linking to a site for nerds like Slashdot, where noscript is common.

    • Or you could just make an exception for this website and at least temporarily allow the relevant javascript.
      • Or you could just make an exception for this website and at least temporarily allow the relevant javascript.

        I could, but that would be senselessly rewarding the incompetent and/or unscrupulous bastards who hid their content behind code they want to run on my PC. Instead, I'll go visit someone who can manage to produce a proper web page.

    • by ebonum ( 830686 )

      Wired's anti-blocking software blocks the site.

      Google cache:
      https://webcache.googleusercon... [googleusercontent.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward

    must be nice to be able to afford to play 'space launch simulator 2'

    us normal folks will have to wait for the pirated version.

    • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
      Richard Branson is failing pretty hard with this one. In the time it took them to design and build this aircraft SpaceX has developed its reusable booster and heck even Amazon has been to space now. All Scaled Composites has to show for the millions invested and the time invested is a suborbital flight and a rather spectacular failure.
      • If your satellite launch fails your next insurance premium goes up and its that much harder to find future commercial customers. If your passengers die your license will be pulled and insurance will be unaffordable, not to mention your customers decide yours is an experience they can skip. Fundamentally different markets. Different customers, different services, different requirements (human-rated etc.)
  • by Cheviot ( 248921 ) on Saturday June 03, 2017 @05:33AM (#54541355)

    Is it made of spruce?

    • by Imrik ( 148191 )

      It made me sad that there was no mention of the Spruce Goose in the article. If you're going to write an article about breaking a record, the least you could do is mention the previous record holder.

      • The function of an airplane is to carry a load. On that basis, the Antonov An-225 beats the Goose by a factor of 5, and it beats the Stratolaunch by 1.5.

        Furthermore, the Goose never demonstrated true airplane flight. It never reached an altitude of more than 1/5 of a wingspan, which means it was flying mostly on ground effect -- and as a ground-effect machine, the Soviet "Caspian Sea Monster" beat its load numbers by a factor of more than 4.

        • by lgw ( 121541 )

          The function of an airplane is to carry property. Communist planes don't count, as there's no property to carry.

          • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

            Under that definition, military craft and fire-fighting planes are all in trouble...

        • Chekov? Is that you?
      • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

        I had the exact same thought. :)

        My next thought was... what's the structural integrity of that long center cross-member under the inevitable flex while in the air?? And does it really need to be that wide??

    • Oh, you silly goose!

    • by quenda ( 644621 )

      "Look at that subtle colouring. The tasteful thickness of the fuselage."

      "Oh my God. It even has a watermark."

    • by ebvwfbw ( 864834 )

      Nah, another billionaire made that mistake.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Saturday June 03, 2017 @05:40AM (#54541367) Journal
    The tradition has always been using wood to make large planes for billionaires in california.
  • Snap! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Tomahawk ( 1343 )

    It's it just me, or does it look like it'll snap in two in the middle-wing section between the 2 fuselages.

    Strange design. It'll be interesting to see it fly...

    • Strange design.

      I dunno . . . I think I saw a similar critter on one of Gerry Anderson's show . . . "Thunderbirds" or "U.F.O."

      It'll be interesting to see it fly...

      Be sure to look close, to see if you can spot puppet wires holding it up.

    • It's it just me, or does it look like it'll snap in two in the middle-wing section between the 2 fuselages.

      Strange design. It'll be interesting to see it fly...

      It always does, but non the less twin-fuselage planes are a thing and have successfully flown various times over the past century, most recently as White Knight 2.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      And here's a video of it taking off: https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

    • by Agripa ( 139780 )

      The important part is concealed beneath the center wing surfaces; it is unlikely to just be a girded tube subject to failure in buckling. My guess is that there will be some sort of box girder structure connected to a similar structure inside the fuselages and none of the load bearing structures are visible. The heavy cargo attachments will also be connected directly to this structure.

      This removes the uncertainty of using a thin walled tube which will fail all at once. A box girder structure can be redun

  • It's the world's largest garage queen and not a plane...

  • I thought we were all going to Mars. It turns out the rich just want to deliver more satellites. What a waste of time. Use a regular rocket, Paul.
    • YAY! more junk in orbit, thats how we defeat those pesky aliens we fill the orbital field around the planet with so much junk that they cant navigate our orbital junk yard, planet Trailer Trash is what we should call earth
  • This is what happens when your money piles up on you. I won't predict it will never fly, but I'll bet it never does anything useful.
    • Yeah god forbid people spend money on making something real that sometimes creates a whole new industry. I mean look at all those other [spacex.com] failures. [virgingalactic.com] Damn them for creating businesses that provide gainful employment and research into something new.

      I mean there's so many better things [mirror.co.uk] to spend money on.

  • The International Space Station is at about 1,320,000 feet. Knocking the first 35,000 feet off is the first 2.5% of the way.

    Seems like a lot of complexity where a lot can go wrong to launch a rocket (mind you, pointed in the wrong direction, space is up, not sideways. My guess is that that huge plane can't safely do a loop. ) to knock off the first 2.5% of the journey.

    I'm not a rocket scientist. What am I missing here?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      space is up, not sideways

      Actually space is mostly sideways. https://what-if.xkcd.com/58/ [xkcd.com]

      But I agree that the extra complexity from a plane launch is probably not worth the trouble.

    • Density of the atmosphere ...

      Cutting out those first 35,000ft cuts down significantly on the air density, meaning less drag on the booster, meaning less propellant needed etc etc etc.

      • by ebonum ( 830686 )

        Numbers please?

      • Another advantage is that you can launch in bad weather, and that you can use an engine configuration optimized for lower air density.

        • by phayes ( 202222 )

          Launching a rocket OK, but taking off & landing this monstrosity in anything but sunny/no wind is likely to be verboten. As the runways they will need will be highly UNcommon (to the point of there only being the one) if there is any possibility that winds will come up between take-off and landing, it'll be a scrub.

    • mind you, pointed in the wrong direction, space is up, not sideways.

      To get into orbit, you need more sideways speed than up speed. Look up Newton's Cannoball.

    • The height is not the major problem. When the ISS passes over your head, it is less than 250 miles away from you, if it were on the ground you could drive to it in half a day. The major problem is getting to orbital velocity. A rocket's payload has to be accelerated to 17,700 mph in the right direction to achieve orbit. Allen's Stratolaunch will provide the first 3% of that speed. Compared to a traditional 10 ton rocket to place 1 ton in LEO, there would be a savings of 0.25 tons of rocket fuel. Since Stra
      • A rocket's payload has to be accelerated to 17,700 mph in the right direction to achieve orbit. Allen's Stratolaunch will provide the first 3% of that speed

        One of the problems is that the rocket still needs to gain a lot of altitude at the point of release. The Pegasus uses a small wing to turn the rocket, and convert the horizontal speed into vertical speed. The wing adds extra mass, so it's not free.

        And of course jet fuel is much less expensive than rocket fuel, especially when you consider the special handling rocket fuels require

        According to figures on Wikipedia, a pegasus launch costs $56 million, and it can take 997 pounds to LEO. A Falcon 9 launch costs $62 million, and it can take a entire Pegasus rocket (40000 pounds) to LEO, and then land the booster again, using only $200k worth o

        • The gain in altitude comes mostly from the horizontal acceleration as Earth "falls away" beneath the rocket. The wings on Pegasus provided aerodynamic lift and were not used to "convert the horizontal speed into vertical speed". That would be a silly waste of velocity. Note that the Shuttle bends to a horizontal attitude soon after lift-off. So do all other rockets to orbit.

          All you need to get to orbit is 17,770 mph ground speed, and it doesn't matter whether you apply that from ground ---maybe using a ra

          • In this launch video you can clearly see it curves upward. https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

            That would be a silly waste of velocity.

            Not quite. Trading horizontal speed for altitude gets you quicker out of the atmosphere, where there's less drag. There's an optimal curve, and it's not a matter of going purely horizontal until the Earth "falls away". Quoting Elon Musk:

            When you drop...the rocket, you have the slight problem that you're not going the right direction. If you look at what Orbital Sciences did with Pegasus, they have a delta wing to do the turn maneuver but then you've got this big wing that's added a bunch of mass and you've able to mostly, but not entirely, convert your horizontal velocity into vertical velocity, or mostly vertical velocity, and the net is really not great.

            Quoting Wikipedia:

            After five seconds of free-fall, the first stage ignites and the vehicle pitches up. The 45-degree delta wing (of carbon composite construction and double-wedge airfoil) aids pitch-up and provides some lift

            • True enough. In talking about horizontal speed, I was oversimplifying by ignoring atmospheric drag, which remains a critical factor until about 300,000 feet. I was justified in so doing since the post I was responding to was talking about accelerating straight up as the only requirement to getting to orbit.

              On a planet with the mass of Earth and no atmosphere, a horizontal acceleration to 17,770 mph would achieve a (very low) orbit. On the other hand, if we built a levitation device that would take a satell

      • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

        Rockets don't work that way. The fuel use is exponential, not linear: shaving off the first 3% reduces fuel requirements by more than 3%. You also get benefits from saved gravity losses from being at higher altitude already and less drag and ability to use a more efficient engine design from having lower starting air pressure.

      • Allen's Stratolaunch will provide the first 3% of that speed. Compared to a traditional 10 ton rocket to place 1 ton in LEO, there would be a savings of 0.25 tons of rocket fuel. Since Stratolaunch is designed to launch three rockets per trip, there are considerable savings in preparation and maintenance costs. And of course jet fuel is much less expensive than rocket fuel, especially when you consider the special handling rocket fuels require. Air launch to orbit make a lot of sense.

        It actually makes even more sense than that, because fuel burn to acceleration it's not linear. Getting a rocket from 0 to 100 MPH takes up a massively disproportionate amount of fuel, because not only does your thrust have to accelerate the rocket, it also has to accelerate the rest of the fuel and the container for that fuel that you're about to burn as well. I would have to check the numbers to get an exact estimate, but it almost certainly could shave at least a ton of fuel and more likely two tons. The

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Wow, imagine if somewhere out there there's another civilization, but their planet is more masaive and it's harder to get to orbit. Alternatively, maybe someone else has a much less massive planet where getting to space is much easier.

    • You aren't missing much. Altitude is a minor issue, it's delta-V that matters. People have been studying similar ideas for years (like 60 years), and the value in terms of energy expended is negligible. Orbital is already launching from an airplane in similar circumstances, from the bottom of an existing airplane (L-1011). This is just a scaled-up version of the same thing.

      Where the value, perhaps minimal, lies, is in launch date/time flexibility. If you launch it from the ground into a polar or inclined o

    • It helps due to less air density. Its a bit tricky:

      If you try to build a very small orbital vehicle, air drag is a major factor. This means that for sea level launches, rockets need to be quite large. By starting with 1/5 the pressure, the rocket can in principal be 1/5 the size (if nothing else is limiting) so very much lighter. Air launch makes small orbital vehicles more practical.

      Another effect is that the efficiency (specific impulse) of rocket engines is better with lower atmospheric pressure. So the

    • > I'm not a rocket scientist. What am I missing here?

      It so happens I am - see my space systems engineering book for proof ( http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/S... [wikibooks.org] )

      Launching from a carrier airplane at 10 km altitude approximately doubles the payload compared to the same rocket starting from the ground. The Pegasus rocket launched from an L-1011 airplane showed this. You can watch a SpaceX launch video to understand why. It takes a Falcon 9 about 1 minute to reach 10 km altitude and Mach 1, which is about t

  • I have high hopes for the 'Deuce Goose' launching spacecraft from mid-air. The B52 launched the X15 from under its wing, and that panned out. This has the potential of drastically reducing the price of getting off the planet and thus re-starting the space race.
    • Launching rockets into space from an aircraft is not a new idea, Orbital Sciences have been doing it since 1994 with an old Lockheed Tristar...

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      • Good Point. My point is that in 1963 the X-15 reached 105.9 km (65.8 miles) into the Thermosphere, past the Karman line, and technically outer space.
        • The X-15 was suborbital though - great for site seeing and tourists, not all that great for anything practical :)

          • Richard_at_work said

            The X-15 was suborbital though - great for site seeing and tourists, not all that great for anything practical :)

            I'm not getting into a Skunk Works vs Wernher von Braun fracas. I'll concede to reality.

          • by Agripa ( 139780 )

            I thought I remembered reading about a plan for a 1/3rd larger X-15 that could have made an orbital flight.

    • Reducing the price of the launch comes with reuse of the rocket. Launching it from a plane isn't going to help much.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Reducing the price of the launch comes with reuse of the rocket. Launching it from a plane isn't going to help much.

        Says the person who fails to realize the plane IS the (first stage) of the rocket.

        Getting the payload 7 miles up gets it past about 98% of the atmosphere (~12kg->0.2kg). It also gets it from 0-500mph or so.

        Both of those facts means the rocket needs less fuel, which means it can be smaller, which means it can use even less fuel, which means.. you, well, non-idiots, get the point. That point is that it doesn't need to be a 50' diameter rocket that's 10 stories tall with crazy heavy fuel systems that create

    • There's a really big difference between reaching space and reaching orbit, about 8 km/s worth if I remember correctly. The X-15 flight is almost completely irrelevant here.

      • david_thornley said

        There's a really big difference between reaching space and reaching orbit, about 8 km/s worth if I remember correctly. The X-15 flight is almost completely irrelevant here.

        True enough, but considering the X-15 reached space in 1963, I believe it demonstrates the potential for reaching orbit with similar techniques, and the right tech. I really don't want to get into the 'what if' department, especially after what Ben Rich said, so let me hang up my spurs on this one. But if you're interested in some pretty wild-ass space flight stuff, look up this guy. Rich is the 'Father of Stealth' and the 2nd director of Skunkwork's - where the X-15 came from.

  • Another billionaire's toy. It must be hard not knowing how to get rid of that money. Why didn't Brewster think of this idea? At least there is none of my money in it - I've never bought any Microsoft stuff.

    But perhaps he got the money from sueing the World plus Dog http://www.theregister.co.uk/2... [theregister.co.uk]

  • You fly up with a rocket tied to you. Rocket basically = HUGE bomb. For whatever reason, you can't launch. How do you land safely with something so heavy and explosive still tied to the plan?

    • How do you land safely with something so heavy and explosive still tied to the plan?

      Probably the same way you take off with it. Wings, engines, thrust... you know the drill.

      • by ebonum ( 830686 )

        If you take off in a 747 and then you want to land half an hour later, you can't. First you may have to dump or burn 50 tons of fuel (rough number). Go look up differences between take off and landing weights for a few large commercial aircraft.

        • You could vent the LOX without too much trouble, I suppose.

        • If you take off in a 747 and then you want to land half an hour later, you can't.

          It certainly complicates an early abort. I'm more concerned about a problem with the plane than with the rocket.

  • creimer can get a window seat!
  • I am confused why this launch vehicle needs to exist (and this is the first I'd heard of it so maybe I'm uninformed).

    It’s supposed to air-launch multiple Pegasus rockets at once (Pegasus = small 1000lb payload).But those rockets already are reliably launched by an old L-1011 by Orbital Sciences. see wiki page [wikipedia.org]

    The cost of that plane is not huge, and I wonder why launching 3 at once would be so useful that they'd design and fly satellites with a totally unproven aircraft?
  • I'm puzzled as to why they would use six USED 747 engines. Newer turbine engines are more efficient, why wouldn't you use six (or four) new 747 or A380 engines? It's not like he doesn't have the money...

  • What is it about extremely rich people and extremely large airplanes made of organic material? [wikipedia.org]

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