We're at the dawn of a new exciting era - the private space age. More and more companies and influential businessmen have hopped on the bandwagon in the past decade, with the thought of building something truly incredible, while operating a profitable business at the same time. Richard Branson launched Virgin Galactic, Elon Musk (Paypal founder) paved the way for the promising SpaceX, Jeff Bezos opened Blue Origin, and now another business magnate is set to join these highly distinguished ranks - Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder, with his newly announced Stratolaunch.
The company's mission and objectives are extremely ambitious, to say the least. Their first project involved the building of a massive aircraft, which when completed will have the largest wingspan in the world (the size of a football field), capable of carrying manned or cargo rockets close enough for them to easily deploy in orbit. Its advanced launch system is designed such that a mid-flight booster ignites to send cargo, satellites and, eventually, people into orbit. Most likely, the aircraft will deploy SpaceX two-stage rockets, whose boosters will be released at an altitude of approximately 30,000 feet (9,100 m), before launching into space.
“Stratolaunch will build an air launch system to give us orbital access to space with greater safety, flexibility and cost effectiveness, both for cargo and manned missions.” Allen at a December 13th press conference.
The dual-bodied, 6 engine jet aircraft will be constructed by Scaled Composites, a California based aerospace design company founded by industry pioneer Burt Rutan, at which Paul Allen is the sole investor. A few specs: wing span of 385 feet (117 meters), 1.2 million pounds (more than 544,000 kilograms) in weight. It's so large that it will require at least a 3.6 kilometer runway just to take off.
This isn't the first time Allen has ventured into the private space industry, as he funded the construction of Scaled Composites' SpaceShipOne suborbital spacecraft, which successfully climbed to an altitude of 115,090 m in 2004. It was the first ever privately funded project to put a civilian into space. Now, with Stratolaunch, Allen intends on creating the first ever completely privately funded space company.
Building a giant aircraft which can ferry rockets, is a lot more efficient from multiple points of view. It's more cost effective, since you don't need to build high range rockets that directly launch into space, it cancels weather complications, and offers a substantial operational flexibility. It sounds like a brilliant business venture, but will it ever see the light of day? Well, Stratolaunch officials promise it will, since most of the design process has been completed and construction will begin soon at the Mojave Air and Space Port hangar.
"This is not a sketch," Burt Rutan said. "It exists in hundreds of detailed drawings, and it's relatively close to [being built] as soon as we can get a building big enough."
"By the end of this decade, Stratolaunch will be putting spacecraft into orbit," Allen said.
We'd love to hear and learn more about this ambitious prospect, however Stratolaunch is still in its early infancy, and like Allen stated, the first launch won't be ready for at least a couple of years. As such, the company has no interest in sharing too much information, just enough to build some hype. Check out the company's presentation video for its promised winged behemoth.