Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch: Microsoft Co-Founder Unveils Space-Travel Venture

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen announced today his plans to build a spaceship that could replace the Space Shuttle this decade.

According to the Seattle Times, Allen, 58, is teaming up with famed aerospace engineer Burt Rutan to develop what the pair is calling a “revolutionary approach to private space travel” for people, cargo or satellites.

“I have long dreamed about taking the next big step in private space flight,” said Allen in a statement. “To offer a flexible, orbital space delivery system.”

The new project, called Stratolaunch Systems, will use giant twin-boom aircraft to launch a rocket and space capsule from the air that will deliver payloads of cargo into low earth orbit.

Wired reports that the aircraft used to carry the booster rocket will be the largest airplane in the world, with a wingspan much longer than a football field: 385 feet. It will use six 747 engines, have a gross weight of more than 1.2 million pounds, and require a runway 12,000 feet long.

Once the launch system is proven to be safe and reliable, manned flights will follow, Stratolaunch Systems officials said.

Allen announced the first test flight is targeted within five years.

Space.com points out that the new project isn’t Allen’s first foray into the realm of private space travel, as the billionaire previously partnered with Rutan to bankroll the construction of SpaceShipOne, the first privately built manned craft to reach suborbital space.

“Paul and I pioneered private space travel with SpaceShipOne, which led to Virgin Galactic’s commercial suborbital SpaceShipTwo Program,” Rutan, who will join Stratolaunch Systems as a board member, said in a statement. “Now, we will have the opportunity to extend that capability to orbit and beyond.”

For more information on Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch Systems Project, watch the video below or head over to the company’s official website here.