Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen built the world’s largest plane to launch rockets into space - the Stratolaunch. He has spent the last six years working on a giant aircraft. Paul Allen’s 250-ton Stratolaunch airplane finally rolled out of its hangar Wednesday in Mojave, Calif. It will now spend many months on ground tests before a first flight. And it’s not expected to be used to launch a rocket into space any sooner than 2019.

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“This marks the completion of the initial aircraft construction phase and the beginning of the aircraft ground and flight testing phase,” Jean Floyd, chief executive of Stratolaunch Systems, said in a statement about the rollout.

With a wingspan of 117 meters, the plane is larger than Hughes' 1947 H-4 Hercules, known as the "Spruce Goose". Also, it is bigger than the Antonov An-225, a Soviet-era cargo plane originally built to transport the Buran space shuttle that is currently the world's largest aircraft. Stratolaunch moves all that weight across the ground on 28 wheels. Also, it eventually will carry its cargo through the air thanks to six 747 aircraft engines.

The Stratolaunch aircraft is designed to carry satellites into low-Earth orbit. The aircraft will carry satellites and their launch vehicles to a cruising altitude of 11,000 meters, according to Paul Allen. An aircraft is intended to carry a rocket slung beneath the central part of the wing, between the two fuselages.

The aircraft’s test program will begin with fueling tests, where each of the plane’s six fuel tanks is independently filled to test their fueling mechanisms and check for leaks. The tanks will then be drained and the plane moved back into the hangar for weight and balance testing.

The plane — nicknamed the Roc, after a mythical Middle Eastern bird so big it could carry an elephant in its claws — will have a three-person crew: pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer. They’ll be on the flight deck of the starboard fuselage, maneuvering the plane from far to the right of its centerline, while the port fuselage cockpit is empty and unpressurized.

Stratolaunch is betting on a new way to launch rockets to space, and it has completed aircraft for the job. If the Roc can drive up launch efficiency and drive down the price, it might just change the orbital game.

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