With the space race heating up, there are still new companies throwing their hat into the ring. Enter Paul Allen, who made his fortunes by founding Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975, a company he remained its chief technologist of until his departure in 1983. These days he is a prolific investor and philanthropist, whose first major public interaction with the space industry was the funding of Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne, which won the coveted Ansari X-Prize competition. Allen’s stamp is clearly all over the company, from it being “A Paul G. Allen Project”, to the quotes you can find back on every single one of the pages on their website, coming out of his book Idea Man. So what is this company all about?
In a nutshell, Stratolaunch Systems was founded in 2011, forming a team between Scaled Composites and Orbital, to build a derivative of SpaceShipTwo’s carrier aircraft, the one used by Richard Branson‘s Virgin Galactic. Based in Huntsvilla, Alabama, the company finished its second hangar at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California earlier this year, and it is there where they will build the next iteration of WhiteKnightTwo on a much larger scale. In fact, its wingspan would be larger than a football field, making it absolutely enormous and by wingspan the largest aircraft to ever fly! It would be able to transport a multi-stage booster – official name: Pegasus II – to high altitude before releasing it, at which point the rocket will continue its journey into orbit prior to delivering its payload. The company doesn’t necessarily qualify yet for what we usually focus on, i.e. human space travel, but with Allen and Rutan at the helm nothing seems impossible. Check out the video below:
“By the end of the decade, Stratolaunch will bring airport-like operations to launch.” While no definitive schedule has been produced yet, Stratolaunch hopes to have their carrier plane ready for test flights by 2017. Not to worry though for frequent visitors to JFK or Heathrow, the plane will be far too big to use the tarmac of any normal airport. Definitely a project to follow though, so stay tuned for more on them as it becomes available.