Paul Allen to invest millions in new satellite launching space plane

Billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has been teaming up with aircraft pioneer Burt Rutan for a long time in an effort to build a reusable space plane that could make it into orbit and return to earth to be used again. The result of that partnership was SpaceShip One. Rutan also designed SpaceShip Two that is used by Virgin Galactic. Allen and Rutan have another space project that they are set to start work on that will result in a cheap and reusable launch method for satellites.

The gigantic aircraft launch system is being called Stratolaunch. The aircraft launch system is still in the design stages at this point, but the beast would have a wingspan wider than a football field and need a runway at least 12,000 feet long. Allen would invest in the area of $200 million from one of his funds into the project. The aircraft would have six engines from a Boeing 747 hanging underneath the wings along with the landing gear from the normal passenger aircraft.

As you can see in the concept drawing the aircraft would be a twin-boom design. In the center of the massive jet would be a rocket booster that would be dropped at an altitude of 30,000 feet with its satellite payload. The rocket would then use boosters to fire the satellite into orbit. The wingspan of the jet is 385-feet and when fully loaded it would weigh 1.2 million pounds. If the project is successful there are expected to be many customers lining up to save big compared to a traditional satellite launch that can range from $30 million to $200 million.

[via WSJ]