Paul Allen making the largest plane ever for Stratolaunch
Paul Allen, a Microsoft founder is building a reusable air-launch platform that will put satellites into orbit. The Stratolaunch carrier aircraft, currently nearing completion, will take off from a runway and fly to the approximate cruising altitude of a commercial airliner before releasing a satellite launch vehicle.
As the launch vehicle rockets into orbit, Stratolaunch will fly back to a runway landing for reloading, refueling and reuse. Stratolaunch will be the first air-launch platform of this scale and will rank among the largest aircraft in history – its wingspan alone will stretch the length of a football field. Built primarily of strong yet light carbon fiber and powered by six 747 engines, Stratolaunch will be able to carry up to 550,000 pounds of payload and offer its customers a consistent, flexible and viable alternative to traditional ground-launched rockets.
What advantages does this air-launch approach offer? First, with aircraft-like operations, our reusable launch platform will significantly reduce the long wait times traditionally experienced between the construction of a satellite and the opportunity to launch it into space.
Second, because Stratolaunch is designed with a flight radius of up to 1000 nautical miles and can launch from different runways, it will offer scientists, businesses and space entrepreneurs much greater flexibility, such as the potential to evade local weather problems that often impose untimely delays on traditional vertical rocket launches.
Third, with shorter wait times, greater flexibility and more missions per year, we will be able to lower costs and increase opportunities to put small satellites into LEO. And when such access to space is routine, innovation will accelerate in ways beyond what we can currently imagine.
That’s the thing about new platforms: when they become easily available, convenient and affordable, they attract and enable other visionaries and entrepreneurs to realize more new concepts. And in a world filled with great challenges and opportunities, we should be making this transformation prospect easier.