Stratolaunch’s giant plane spotted from space

Stratolaunch plane
Stratolaunch’s giant airplane sits outside its hangar at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port in a picture captured on Sept. 22 by DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-1 satellite from an altitude of more than 300 miles. Click on the image for a larger version. (Satellite Image ©2018 DigitalGlobe, a Maxar Company)

How big is the world’s biggest airplane? So big that it shows up clearly in a black-and-white photo taken by DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-1 satellite on Sept. 22.

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch space venture took the 385-foot-wide, twin-fuselage airplane out of its hangar at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port for testing over the weekend, at just the right time for WorldView-1’s overflight.

The timing was the key factor behind the shot, which took advantage of WorldView-1’s capability to snap panchromatic pictures with a resolution of 50 centimeters (20 inches) per pixel. That resolution isn’t good enough to read license plates (or the logos painted on the side of the plane), but it is good enough to make an impression.

“We knew it was big, but seeing this view … whoa,” Allen’s Vulcan Inc. said in a tweet.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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