Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen announced his new space project today. Stratolaunch Systems will reunite Allen and aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan as they work to develop a new mobile launch system. The duo previously collaborated on SpaceShipOne, in 2004.
Stratolaunch Systems' new launch system will have three main components: a carrier aircraft, a multistage booster rocket, and a mating and integration system that will allow the aircraft and booster to work together. The carrier aircraft will be developed by Rutan's Scaled Composites, the same company that built SpaceShipOne. The booster will be built by Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), and Dynetics will be responsible for the mating and integration system.
The goal is to bring quick-turnaround, "airport-like operations" to spaceflight, first with payloads and eventually with humans, with plans for a first flight within the next five years. Compared with launching from the ground, launching from the air will cost less and be safer, more flexible, and more responsive.
The carrier plane will be the largest plane in the world: it's designed to have a wingspan of more than 380 feet and will fly using six Boeing 747 engines. Takeoff and landing will require a runway 12,000 feet long.
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