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

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.)

  • Jeff

    Hopefully he names it: Airforce One

    • jaime

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

  • Mirriam Egglebrecht

    Obama is busy drafting a new tax for this.

    • GozieBoy

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

      • Mike

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

  • Barry Sortoro

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

    • The Bruce

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

      • Dave in Sac

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

      • Bucklenutz

        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”.

      • The Bruce

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

    • djw663

      As long as they don’t ever come back!

  • Neal Eger

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

    • RSimon

      it could “crash”

  • Buck Ofama

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

  • der

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

    • B

      Charles Bronson?

    • Red

      Because competition drives innovation

    • M1

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

  • Space Innovation

    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…

  • bubbles

    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.

  • Tony Webb

    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!

    • George Pomar

      Right on Tony!

    • Mac

      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.

  • Pf Wag

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

  • ECH

    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.

    • Red

      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?

    • bubbles

      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.

    • Devin LaDawri

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

    • Mikey

      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…

    • Structure Engineer Dave

      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.

    • Fluidizer

      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.

      • Glass Houses

        “whining wacked out”

        Sounds like you’re describing yourself.

    • Airplane Engineer

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

  • Dean Fischer

    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?

    • GozieBoy

      Dooh! Now they’re on their way!

  • Danno45

    Pure fantasy. It will never happen.

    • Fluidizer

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

  • glenp

    what a waste

    • Fluidizer

      You sure are.

  • JHarnes

    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!

    • Fluidizer

      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.

  • Paul

    Put windows vista on the early test flights

    • Bitter Veteran

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

  • Mike Troup

    May I suggest Nancy Polosi for the first flight…

  • Common Sense

    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.

    • Vulcan Employee

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

      • Fluidizer

        Sounds rather like a president I know.

    • jaime

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

  • k jones

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

  • hyvision

    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.”

    • Just Saying

      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.

    • Godfrey_Daniel

      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.

  • Jubal Harshaw

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

  • Naming Conventions

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

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

  • billcrawford

    “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.

  • Not Safe

    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!!!

    • LukeJohn

      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.

      • Fluidizer

        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

  • mrfunn

    With Burt Rutan involved, it should be fantastic aircraft.

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