Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Allen unveils air-launched orbital space system

A new company backed by billionaire Paul Allen plans to build the largest aircraft ever to deploy payloads and eventually humans to orbit.

Stratolaunch Systems will reunite the Microsoft co-founder with pioneering aerospace designer Burt Rutan and his former firm Scaled Composites to develop the carrier aircraft, which will deploy a multi-stage rocket booster developed by SpaceX.

Allen and Rutan developed SpaceShipOne (above), winner of the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004 and precursor to the Virgin Galactic's suborbital SpaceShipTwo vehicle.

"We are at the dawn of radical change in the space launch industry," Allen said in a press release. "Stratolaunch Systems is pioneering an innovative solution that will revolutionize space travel."

The release identifies Kennedy Space Center as a potential base of operations for the new system, and a promotional video appears to show a takeoff and landing from the Shuttle Landing Facility.

Stratolaunch headquarters is based in Huntsville, Ala. Scaled will build the plane at Mojave Air and Space Port, with a first flight planned within five years. Huntsville-based Dynetics will build a mating and integration system for the booster.

Gary Wentz, a former NASA chief engineer, will serve as the company's CEO. In addition to Rutan and SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell, board members include former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin.

A 2 p.m. EST press conference unveiling the initiative is planned at the Seattle headquarters of Allen's Vulcan Inc. Watch it live here.

IMAGE: Credit Stratolaunch Systems


steele-environmental said...

Way cool!

Move over, Mr. Hughes!

Phil said...

Well, It's going to cost a lot of money to develop and manufacture this plane which looks like two 747 or equivalent carriers. How much does it cost to make a rocket that would fly the initial 40,000 feet? Are there really any savings here or are we carring the SpaceShipOne concept a little too far?