Entrepreneur and philanthropist Paul G. Allen announced today that he and aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan have reunited to develop the next generation of space travel.
Allen and Rutan, whose SpaceShipOne was the first privately-funded, manned rocket ship to fly beyond earth’s atmosphere, are developing a revolutionary approach to space transportation: an air-launch system to provide orbital access to space with safety, cost-effectiveness and flexibility in mind.
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. We are at the dawn of radical change in the space launch industry. Stratolaunch Systems is pioneering an innovative solution that will revolutionise space travel.
Stratolaunch Systems, will build a mobile launch system with three primary components:
- A carrier aircraft, developed by Scaled Composites, the aircraft manufacturer and assembler founded by Rutan. It will be the largest aircraft ever flown.
- A multi-stage booster, manufactured by Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies;
- A state-of-the-art mating and integration system allowing the carrier aircraft to safely carry a booster weighing up to 490,000 pounds. It will be built by Dynetics, a leader in the field of aerospace engineering.
The company will also bring airport-style operations to the launch of commercial and government payloads and, eventually, human missions. Plans call for a first flight within five years. Stratolaunch’s aim for quick turnaround times between launches which will enable new orbital missions as well as break the logjam of missions queued up for launch facilities and a chance at space. Rutan, who has joined Stratolaunch Systems as a board member, said he was thrilled to be back working with Allen.
Paul and I pioneered private space travel with SpaceShipOne, which led to Virgin Galactic’s commercial suborbital SpaceShipTwo Program. Now, we will have the opportunity to extend that capability to orbit and beyond. Paul has proven himself a visionary with the will, commitment and courage to continue pushing the boundaries of space technology. We are well aware of the challenges ahead, but we have put together an incredible research team that will draw inspiration from Paul’s vision.
The carrier aircraft will operate from a large airport/spaceport, such as Kennedy Space Center, and will be able to fly up to 1,300 nautical miles to the payload’s launch point.
It will use six 747 engines, have a gross weight of more than 1.2 million pounds and a wingspan of more than 380 feet. For takeoff and landing, it will require a runway 12,000 feet long. Systems onboard the launch aircraft will conduct the countdown and firing of the booster and will monitor the health of the orbital payload. The plane will soon be under construction at the Mojave Air and Space Port and will be near where Scaled Composites built SpaceShipOne which won Allen and Scaled Composites the $10-million Ansari X Prize in 2004 after three successful sub-orbital flights.
Scaled Composites is a wholly owned subsidiary of Northrop Grumman and President Doug Shane said;
Scaled is all about achieving milestones and pursuing breakthroughs, and this project offers both – building the largest airplane in the world, and achieving the manufacturing breakthroughs that will enable Scaled to accomplish it. We are thrilled to be a part of this development program. We anticipate significant hiring of engineering, manufacturing, and support staff in the near and medium term