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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 last Saturday.

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.

Stratolaunch is in the midst of runway taxi tests for the airplane, which has been nicknamed Roc in honor of the giant flying bird mentioned in tales of Sinbad the Sailor (and Marco Polo’s travels).

Its first test flight is expected sometime in the next few months, and by the 2020s, Roc could start doing the job it’s designed for: to serve as a flying platform for rocket launches. Now that’d really be something to see from space.

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