Paul Allen, of Microsoft fame, has partnered with SpaceShipOne engineer Burt Rutan to construct the world’s biggest aircraft, capable of launching commercial and government cargo into space. Eventually, Allen hopes to use this model to open up space travel to civilians.
The Stratolaunch system builds off SpaceShipOne, Allen and Rutan’s suborbital air-launched spaceplane that garnered headlines in 2004. The newly announced aircraft, however, contains one key difference from its predecessor: It will be considerably larger and more flexible, according to a company press release.
“I have long dreamed about taking the next big step in private space flight after the success of SpaceShipOne — to offer a flexible, orbital space delivery system,” Allen said in a statement. “We are at the dawn of radical change in the space-launch industry. Stratolaunch Systems is pioneering an innovative solution that will revolutionize space travel.”
The carrier aircraft could also revolutionize the airfreight industry, some say. The spaceplane, which will feature six Boeing 747 engines, will be able to fly up to 1,300 nautical miles to the payload’s launch point, the press release revealed. The aircraft will also necessitate a 12,000-foot long runway to accommodate its more than 380-foot wingspan.
What’s more, the aircraft will encompass systems that “monitor the health of the orbital payload,” according to the press release. It may be a long time before that payload includes humans, however.
“The company is taking a building block approach in development of the launch aircraft and booster, with initial efforts focused on unmanned payloads,” according to the press release. “Human flights will follow, after safety, reliability and operability are demonstrated.”