Inside The Roc's Lair

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The massive size of the carrier aircraft now in assembly at Mojave, California, for Stratolaunch Systems’s space launch program is apparent for the first time in these rare stills taken from footage shot for a recent news story by KGET 17, a Bakersfield TV station.

One of the two enormous twin fuselage sections under assembly. Individuals working on the structure are ringed in red circles for scale.

The NBC affiliate was granted unprecedented access to film the gargantuan vehicle, dubbed ‘Roc’ after the giant bird of prey in Middle East mythology, as part of an overview report on space-related developments at Mojave. Although Stratolaunch has produced computer-generated images and videos of the Roc, the TV footage is the first time images of the real vehicle in a substantial state of completion have been shown.

Another view of a boom with a worker circled for scale on part of the wing section.

Built for Stratolaunch by Scaled Composites, the Roc will be the largest aircraft ever made with a wingspan of 385 ft. This compares to 320 ft for the Hughes H-4 Hercules (Spruce Goose), 290 ft for the six-engined Antonov An-225, 262 ft. for the Airbus A380, and 225 ft. for the Boeing 747-8. Powered by six reconditioned Pratt & Whitney PW4056 engines salvaged along with other parts from two ex-United Airlines Boeing 747-400s, the twin-fuselage carrier aircraft resembles a vastly enlarged version of the Scaled-built WhiteKnightTwo developed for Virgin Galactic.

The deep chord of the center wing section and narrow cross section of the aft fuselage booms is evident in this overview.

In the news report, Scaled Composites president Kevin Mickey says the company has so far built “roughly 200,000 lb. of composite structure” for the vehicle. He adds for effect that if the Roc was positioned on the centerline of the 50 yard line of an American football field the wingtips would hang over the goalposts “roughly 15 ft. on each side.”

Each of the twin fuselages of the Roc is 238-ft. long and, when complete, will be supported by 12 main landing gear wheels and two nose gear wheels for a total shipset of 28 wheels. The vehicle will be flown by a three-person crew from a cockpit situated in the right hand fuselage. The three-stage Thunderbolt rocket will be carried aloft for launch mounted beneath the wing center section.  

Flight tests are scheduled to begin in around a year’s time, with initial launch operations starting in 2018. According to the latest information from Stratolaunch, the Orbital Sciences-built Thunderbolt will be 131-ft long, and weigh around 550,000 lb. Overall weight of the Roc and Thunderbolt will be 1.3 million lbs. The launch vehicle is designed to put 13,500 lb. into a 220 naut. mile, 28.5 degree (LEO) orbit.  Payloads will be enclosed within a 16.4-ft diameter fairing. The three-stage vehicle will use ATK-provided solid rocket motors for the first and second stages, while the third will be powered by two liquid-fueled Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C engines.

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