Talk about your sci-fi adventures. The Microsoft co-founder wants to build what would be the world's largest airplane - and then use it to launch satellites into orbit. The idea is to develop a transportation system that is cheaper than the traditional means of launching rockets from the ground. Billionaire Allen supplies the funding, Musk's Hawthorne-based company SpaceX develops a booster rocket, and Rutan's company designs a plane from used Boeing 747 landing gears and other parts. At 30,000 feet or thereabouts, the rocket is dropped and then shot into space with the satellite attached. I mean, like wow (check out the video). Sounds like a lot of the work would happen in Southern California. They're looking to begin flight testing in 2016. From the NYT:
By getting rid of the specialized launching pads used by NASA and other space agencies, officials at Mr. Allen's new company, Stratolaunch Systems, say they will be able to reduce costs, offer more flexibility and avoid bad weather by simply flying their airborne launcher to a patch of clear sky. They hope to begin flying in five years, first taking satellites and then, perhaps, people into orbit. "That's certainly part of the ultimate plan," said Gary Wentz, the chief executive of Stratolaunch and a former chief engineer at NASA.
The carrier airplane will be the biggest and heaviest ever built. With wings that will stretch 385 feet -- longer than a football field -- it will dwarf the double-decker Airbus A380, the biggest passenger plane flying today. It will even be bigger than the Spruce Goose, Howard Hughes's gargantuan seaplane that flew just once in 1947 but that still holds the longest wingspan, 320 feet, of any aircraft in history. Mr. Rutan said that Scaled Composites, which is tiny compared with companies like Boeing and Airbus, will able to build such a huge airplane because it is only designing and building the airframe.
From press release:
SpaceX's multi-stage booster is derived from the company's Falcon 9 rocket. At approximately 120 feet long, the booster is designed to loft the payload into low earth orbit. After release of the booster from the aircraft at approximately 30,000 feet, the first stage engines ignite and the spacecraft begins its journey into space. After the first stage burn and a short coast period, the second stage ignites and the orbital payload proceeds to its planned mission. The booster's health and status during flight is monitored from the carrier aircraft and on the ground.
SpaceX is involved in its own launch system that is expected to send cargo to the International Space Station.