SEATTLE (AP) — Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan are building the world’s biggest plane to help launch cargo and astronauts into space, in the latest of several ventures fueled by technology tycoons clamoring to write America’s next chapter in spaceflight.

Their plans, unveiled Tuesday, call for a twin-fuselage aircraft with wings longer than a football field to carry a rocket high into the atmosphere and drop it, avoiding the need for a launch pad and the expense of additional rocket fuel.

Allen, who teamed up with Rutan in 2004 to send the first privately financed, manned spacecraft into space, said his new project would “keep America at the forefront of space exploration” and give a new generation of children something to dream about.

“We have plenty and many challenges ahead of us,” he said at a news conference.

Allen and Rutan join a field crowded with Silicon Valley veterans who grew up on “Star Trek” and now want to fill a void created with the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle. Several companies are competing to develop spacecraft to deliver cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station.

Allen bemoaned the fact that government-sponsored spaceflight is waning.

“When I was growing up, America’s space program was the symbol of aspiration,” he said. “For me, the fascination with space never ended. I never stopped dreaming what might be possible.”

Allen and Rutan last collaborated on the experimental SpaceShipOne, which was launched in the air from a special aircraft. It became the first privately financed, manned spacecraft to dash into space in 2004 and later won the $10 million Ansari X Prize for accomplishing the feat twice in two weeks.

Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic licensed the technology and is developing SpaceShipTwo to carry tourists to space.

The new plane will have a wingspan of 380 feet — the world’s largest. The plane will carry under its belly a space capsule with its own booster rocket; it will blast into orbit after the plane climbs high into the atmosphere.

This method saves money by not using rocket fuel to get off the ground. Another older rocket company, Orbital Sciences Corp., uses this method for unmanned rockets to launch satellites.

The rockets will eventually carry people, but the first tests, scheduled for 2016, will be unmanned. It should be another five years before people can fly on the system that Allen and Rutan are calling Stratolaunch.

The company, to be based in Huntsville, Ala., bills its method of getting to space as “any orbit, any time.” Rutan will build the carrier aircraft, which will use six 747 engines.

The spaceship and booster will be provided by another Internet tycoon, Elon Musk of PayPal, who has built a successful commercial rocket.

Allen left Microsoft in 1983. Since his time at the software giant he has pursued many varied interests. He’s the owner of the Seattle Seahawks football team as well as the Portland Trailblazers of the NBA.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (95)
  1. Jeff says:

    Hopefully he names it: Airforce One

    1. jaime says:

      if its flying right now could be great soalso 1 way trip….

  2. Mirriam Egglebrecht says:

    Obama is busy drafting a new tax for this.

    1. GozieBoy says:

      Billionaires riding private rockets is much more sexy for Obama to tax than even Millionaires flying private jets.

      1. Mike says:

        Hahaha!!! I can hear it now, “the time of billionaires going to Space Vegas in private rockets is over!”

  3. Barry Sortoro says:

    Load it up with liberals and send it on its merry way.

    1. The Bruce says:

      Better yet, send it on a one-way trip into the Sun.

      1. Dave in Sac says:

        If they did that, their relative density would turn our nice sun into a black hole!

      2. Bucklenutz says:

        Speaking of, Obama has already put in place a maned mission to the sun, he commented “by going at night they will be able to beat the heat”.

      3. The Bruce says:

        You’re right, Dave. I hadn’t thought out the unintended consequences. (I guess that made a liberal for about 3 minutes). Ewwwww.

    2. djw663 says:

      As long as they don’t ever come back!

  4. Neal Eger says:

    Microsoft huh? Wonder if it will need a reboot at liftoff.

    1. RSimon says:

      it could “crash”

  5. Buck Ofama says:

    Wait… is this guy one of those evil millionaires that doesn’t create jobs?

  6. der says:

    why not just team up with bronson instead of rebuilding the wheel?

    1. Red says:

      Because competition drives innovation

    2. M1 says:

      Brason is licensing Virgin Galactic’s technology from the two guys this story is about (Allen and Rutan).

  7. Space Innovation says:

    So does this mystery aircraft have a name yet? I mean they have already used white knight 1 and 2 and the procedure for air launching rockets has been demonstrated by them, NASA and even the USAF launching an ICBM from a C-5. If they do this it might be great but I wouder if they will do something better like a more effective recovery method. Now that the Shuttle is shelved the only crew transports to the ISS feature the old Soviet style crashing in a field, or the old Nasa Apollo style crashing into water. There really ought to be a better way to recover our space adventurers. Spaceship 1 and 2 don’t have enough punch for an ISS flight so the flap wing is not yet a factor. We’ll see…

  8. bubbles says:

    Private space exploration was long overdue. I can appreciate the nostalgia that surrounds NASA but I think people like Allen will continue to take it to the next level better than NASA could have.

  9. Tony Webb says:

    Cecil Field Spaceport’s 12,500 feet by 200 feet runway in Jacksonville, FL has the ability to launch this spacecraft. We will keep the lights on for ya!

    1. George Pomar says:

      Right on Tony!

    2. Mac says:

      And we have permission to use it that way from the state.

      And we’ve gotten rid of that idiot city councilman who opposed virtually every sensible use of Cecil Field after he ran off the Navy and all their economic benefit to the city.

      I’d love to sit on my back patio and watch rockets go up all day long.

  10. Pf Wag says:

    The GOV will require them to unionize and hire OWS workers.

  11. ECH says:

    What a waste of wealth and planning! The elite is creating travel options for the elite. God gave us the earth, with beauty and resources, but such dreamers want a trip to the moon or to space to take in its barren landscapes and/or vast emptiness. Go figure. Curisoity turned camp-run-a-muk, wasted millions, even billions, on a lost cause. He probably has been watching Terra Nova and got the idea of a cosmic new beginning to earth when the planet is too polluted to go on in style. Ingenuity is a good thing, but this is crass excess.

    1. Mikey says:

      The space race and related research has given us many technologies that we use every single day.

      Plus the millions and billions of dollars “wasted on a lost cause” help to employ thousands or even tens of thousands of people. Would you rather we just use that money on free handouts? Just think of how much gov’ment cheese we could buy…

    2. Red says:

      Jealousy is tough to get over. No sense in being mad about what people do with their money. It is THEIR money, not yours. As far as wealth planning, you realize this is an investment. Not only for themselves, but for the country even the world. As we find out more about space, we learn a lot about our own planet and galaxy. Just because you don’t care or can’t comprehend doesn’t mean the rest of us aren’t interested.

      Should the government just take the money and hand it out to the babies that complain about the rich and successful? Are you upset that because he has all that money, your handout may be a little less?

    3. bubbles says:

      Throughout history whenever huge private investments went into exploration, transportation, or engineering there were always jealous naysayers like you ECH. Short sighted and small minded comments like this would almost bother me if history hadn’t shown that in all cases they were proven totally and utterly insignificant and forgettable.

    4. Airplane Engineer says:

      They said the same things about airplanes when they were new…….

    5. Structure Engineer Dave says:

      These will be great shovel ready jobs, (unlike the one’s from your master, obama). Eventually the cost will drop to a level that even ECH (or Mr. entitlement, no doubt) can afford.

    6. Fluidizer says:

      So, now the evil rich are going to spreed their greed throughout the Universe eh? Count me in. They can get as rich as they like, and I will help them anyway they deem…Just please get me off this planet of whining whacked out liberal freaks.

      1. Glass Houses says:

        “whining wacked out”

        Sounds like you’re describing yourself.

    7. Devin LaDawri says:

      God didn’t also give us space and the moon to explore and enjoy?
      You must be trolling with that one….

  12. Dean Fischer says:

    Hmmm a Billionaire creating jobs and filling a void left open by government. And heaven forbid, make a profit at it. I wonder when the Occupy Protesters will make it over Mojave and demonstrate at Rutan’s place?

    1. GozieBoy says:

      Dooh! Now they’re on their way!

  13. Danno45 says:

    Pure fantasy. It will never happen.

    1. Fluidizer says:

      Your quite the visionary. We all know Man is not meant to fly. Never happen.

    1. Fluidizer says:

      You sure are.

  14. JHarnes says:

    Right now the Congress must take a hard look at the NASA budget. If it is no longer seeking man spaceflight it’s budget needs to slashed. I’d much rather see those funds given as grants to private industry instead of using NASA as a funding source for the study of global warming!

    1. Fluidizer says:

      You must not have heard. NASA’s missions under the Obama Regime include building Muslim self esteem and buttressing the fraud of man made Global Warming. You can forget that manned spaceflight junk. That money’s going for social reconstruction, and vegetarian meals for kids in government schools.

  15. Paul says:

    Put windows vista on the early test flights

    1. Bitter Veteran says:

      I bet they will use Linux. Windows = Fail Too much muny riding on this.

  16. Mike Troup says:

    May I suggest Nancy Polosi for the first flight…

  17. Common Sense says:

    Another large aircraft, the massive Airbus, had many structural issues; ever seen the cluster of wheels that thing has.

    Now multiply that by 3 , two 747 sized aircraft shells plus that rocket, and you will run into a structural impossibility.

    1. Vulcan Employee says:

      Its true that every thing he touches results in failure.
      Once he left Microsoft, it finally started to do well.

      1. Fluidizer says:

        Sounds rather like a president I know.

    2. jaime says:

      u r 2 smart..ass, may NASA can call u some day and i like you for stupid.

  18. k jones says:

    I can think of a few “groups” that should be launched into space.

  19. hyvision says:

    Whatever you do, do not invest your hard earned money in an Allen backed venture. Let’s just say financial success for his backers has been “limited.”

    1. Just Saying says:

      He started with 23 Billion dollars from those Microsoft Stock Options but is now likely down to less than half that due to so many bad ideas.

    2. Godfrey_Daniel says:

      He took a fairly successful cable company, Marcus Cable, combined it with several failed companies and created an even lousier cable company, Charter. Watch out Burt.

  20. Jubal Harshaw says:

    Sounds like Operation Springboard by John Dudley Ball, 1958. Not exactly a new idea,

  21. Naming Conventions says:

    I understand the craft is to be christened “Dr. Watson.”

    Its first stage will be known by the initialism “BSOD”.

  22. billcrawford says:

    “Microsoft Co-Founder To Build Giant Plane To Launch People, Cargo Into Space.”

    Excellent idea, start the launch with Obama, his Czars and his administration as well as the brown noser chair of the DNC, they all seem to have a problem with the truth and listening to the American people, their bosses.

  23. Not Safe says:

    Well, it’s a smarter idea than Bill Gates has which is try to build “safe nuclear reactors” when there’s no such thing as a “safe nuclear” reactor, and Microsoft can’t even keep viruses away from their operating system!!!

    1. LukeJohn says:

      Actually there is such a thing – look into Thorium micro-nukes.

      And secondly, for all the drama and Hollywood hype, even “conventional” nuclear energy has been one of the safest power-generating methods ever developed. The handful of accidents world-wide have an injury/death rate way lower than other systems when you look at the big picture.

      Coal releases more radiation than nuclear plants do. Mining coal kills hundreds every year.

      Solar produces toxic waste in its manufacture and end-of-life disposal. It is also not viable, currently only surviving because of government subsidies. We’d need hundreds of square miles worth with the associated habitat destruction to produce a meaningful amount of energy. We’d also need miles of unsightly transmission lines from sunny areas and hugely toxic batteries to store power.

      Wind is high-maintenance, unsightly, kills birds by day, bats by night. Again we’d need hundreds of square miles worth, those transmission lines and toxic batteries.

      Hydro kills fish, silts up rivers and we just don’t have enough rivers anyway. Plus we’d need transmission lines again.

      Wave energy has environmental impact, is unreliable, high maintenance and we’d have to run wires from the coast.

      Ethanol is an expensive joke.

      Geothermal is great but has limited availability unless we start wholesale perforating of the Earth’s crust and just think of the AGW impact of all that waste heat.

      1. Fluidizer says:

        Helium 3 would beat Thorium.
        But wait. It’s only on the Moon, and The Obama Regime destroyed our return trip back there to colonize it. Now the ChiComs are going.
        Ah well, there’s always the Chevy Volt.
        har har

  24. mrfunn says:

    With Burt Rutan involved, it should be fantastic aircraft.

  25. Support It says:

    Everyone near California should be throwing their support behind California’s ballot initiative to shut down CA’s nuclear power plants !!

    California is an earthquake zone and tsunami zone, so it’s up to the winds which state would get the contamination !

    Japan’s nuclear meltdowns has devastated their country, their food supply and the health of the children nearby.

    Send this link to anyone you know in California and tell them to support it:

    1. Shut Them All Down says:

      I heard that California’s San Onofre nuclear power plant has the WORST SAFETY record of any nuclear power plant in the U.S.

      Shut them all down !

      1. Fluidizer says:

        All any one needs a Volt Battery from Government Motors! They will power everything in your home and your cars and yard equipment too! You can buy them cheap with a Goverment rebate! They are Shovel Ready jobs in a black box! They will save the Planet from Global Warming!
        Its for the CHILDREN don’t you SEE???!?!?!?
        Now stick a carrot in that kid’s mouth and shut up and pay more taxes.

    2. LukeJohn says:

      I travel to Japan on business regularly as do others in my company.

      Notwithstanding what you read in the sensationalist press or on anti-nuclear websites, that country is far from “devastated”

      The answer is Thorium-fueled micro-nukes. Completely sealed, small units that would be completely unaffected in an earthquake or tsunami.

      1. Snake Oil says:

        Yes, Japan has been devastated by their 3 nuclear meltdowns.

        And now Japan is burning their radioactive waste and it’s spreading everywhere in Japan.

        The radiation levels are high even in Tokyo, so I hope you have a good doctor.

        The radiation is Japan’s food, tea leaves, water, sewage, cattle, fish…

        Even mainstream media news admits that Japan’s meltodnws have been the worst radioactive nightmare in history.

        The amount of radiation alone that Japan has dumped into the Pacific Ocean is so bad that U.S. agencies are studying it.

        If you think Japan is safe, please volunteer to help clean up the radioactive contamination there.

        They’re running out people dumb enough to stay there and clean it up.

        Anyone with money in Japan has already evacuated to Shanghia or Australia.

        And for Thorium – Japan promised that their nuclear plants were safe from earthquake and tsunami, too.

        Beware of those selling snake oil.

    3. Fluidizer says:

      Its about The CHILDREN!!! THE CHILDREN!!! ARGHHHH!

      1. Reply says:

        Here is a photo of a Japanese CHILD being checked radiation exposure after Japan’s 3 nuclear meltdowns.

        Now keep in mind that San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant has the WORST safety record of any of the 104 nuclear power plants in the U.S.

        And California is right next door to Washington.

    4. el toro pupu says:

      Have you found a cave or tree to live in Yet??????

  26. walter12 says:

    Get rid of of this monster Obama and his demon infested regime and we could have spce vehicles again.

  27. Curious Guy says:

    Can I buy a ticket for Obama?

  28. steve mcfadden says:

    Please put nancy pelosi and debbie washerman schultzenheimer on it.

  29. Tommy says:

    Burt Ruttan is a Aircraft genius. Every one in the aviation community trusts and admires him. One has the money the other the vision and brains. It will fly I have no doubt. Ruttan is the best and NSA knows it.

  30. Tina Ferrer says:

    Hey Paul, if this space plane works as well as your cable company Charter Communications? I’ll watch thanks.

  31. jim says:

    I do not believe the project will launch in the USA. Can you imagine the red tape invovled to do it here as compared to Mexico ?

  32. pig says:

    it’s not a waste at all. It’s a business spending its own money to develop a cheaper version of a launching platform. This costs you nothing. They aren’t trying to “tax” me for this. I have no idea why you’re griping about it. R & D creates actual jobs.

    Makes perfect sense to use an airplane to get from zero to 40,000+ feet. Ask Branson, that’s how his works.

    Big gives you more lift capability — something the shuttle came up short on. The shuttle was also terribly expensive to launch, not to mention pretty dangerous with twin solid fuel boosters bolted right next to an explosive center gas tank.

    Can it fly? Sure. Take a look at a Russian Antonov. Maybe someday it will have scram jet engines and hit hypersonic speeds so they payload doesn’t have to burn as much fuel to make orbit.

    Can the private sector do it more efficiently than government? My money is on the private sector every time.

    1. LukeJohn says:

      The other benefit is that a plane can fly from wherever to high altitude on the equator thereby using the Earth’s rotation to gain speed and reduce the fuel needed for the booster to attain orbit. Since it gains lift from aerodynamics as well as engine power, it is far more efficient than ground-to-orbit rockets that rely on engines only.

  33. Will says:

    Good for Paul Allen and good for Burt Ruttan; I wish them the best.

    As the Shuttle program has proven itself colossally inefficient and technologically ossified, I think that their laments about NASA cutbacks and the shutdown of the program are misplaced.

    I also wish that they would dispense with their appeals to nationalism.

    Nonetheless, I think that it is great news that Mr. Allen is prepared to fill the void with his own fortune. Mr. Rutan and his team will undoubtedly be much more sensitive to Mr. Allen’s concerns and expectations than NASA is to those of the average American. In the end, I am confident that Mr. Rutan will be able to put together a superior program at a fraction of the expense.

  34. Chris Harlos says:

    Feel free to take the U.S. Government with you. And, for sure, the Fortune 500 CEOs, all investment bankers, and every neo-classical economist .

    1. M1 says:

      Seems like it would be a lot cheaper and easier if you just left. Buh-bye.

    2. Will says:

      Wow Carlos, you seem to be a tolerant and open-minded individual!

  35. Richard G. Hertz says:

    I knew it! I knew it! Rutan was going for low orbital access! Space Ships One and Two where stepping stones to low Earth orbit. After this, just watch the development take off! I’m getting my resume ready to apply for a position at Con-Am 22 on Io.

  36. Donald says:

    NASA need to step its game up. These are so funny. I thought you would like them. Check them out if you want.

    Al Gore in Global Horsesh#t. Part 1

    Al Gore in Global Horsesh#t. Part 2

    Between a Barrack and a Hard Place.

    Enjoy, Donald

  37. Mythical Job Creating Millionaire says:

    Too bad this wont create any jobs. I mean, millionaires that create jobs are about as rare as unicorns, they don’t exist. Just ask Harry Reid. It’s a shame too, because a program like this could lead to some exciting careers.

    I guess we just have to wait for the third of congress that aren’t millionaires to create jobs. Seems like an impossible fight when the poorer representatives are outnumbered like that. Oh well, maybe someday the mythical job creating millionaire will fly in on his unicorn and prove Harry Reid wrong.

  38. FritzIdler says:

    When I first heard the claim, we didn’t need a government space program, because the private sector would do it when the economy was ready, I thought, that could not happen. Well, guess what! Time and time again I have seen, what the government can do, private citizens seeking profit, can do better. Remember kids, the government first thought of connecting computers together, but it was in the free market that caused the internet to take off like a rocket.

  39. Jukeman says:

    Rags to riches to rags in one generation.

  40. Riquin says:

    NASA is dead with political appointees all over .. OH WELL ….now private enterprise to the rescue!!!

  41. sam hart says:

    So this is what retired guys do. (Rutan “retired” recently…!)

  42. Conservative says:

    Imagine that…. private companies are finding cheaper ways to do something. …saving on cost of rocket fuel. The moral of this story is smaller government through privatization.

  43. FrancisChalk says:

    It will probably launch and then the computer will lock up at 5,000 feet and the rocket will crash, just like his Microsoft products.

  44. Joshua McGinnis says:

    “…Rutan will build the carrier aircraft, which will use six 747 engines.” So… which one of the 10 different power plants used by 747 are we talking about.

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