Paul Allen plans to replace space shuttle program
Paul Allen is planning on building the world's largest plane intended to offer space travel to paying customers and possibly to the international space station.
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Lifelong space enthusiast Allen is hoping to launch unmanned rockets from a massive flying carrier plane to put government and commercial satellites into space and eventually evolve to human space missions.
The initiative comes only months after the United States retired the Space Shuttle program after 30 years, opening the door to private enterprise to supply space vehicles.
Allen's rocket will be launched from what will be the world's biggest plane, a massive carrier aircraft powered by six jumbo jet engines, to be constructed by Scaled Composites, a unit of defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp.
Its wingspan will be about 385 feet, bigger than a football field and 70 percent longer than the wings of a Boeing 747.
The rocket itself will be made by private space company SpaceX, created by Elon Musk, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal. The rocket and carrier will be integrated by aviation and missile specialists Dynetics.
The first test flight is targeted for 2015 with the first commercial flight the year after.
"I have long dreamed about taking the next big step in private space flight," said Allen. "To offer a flexible, orbital space delivery system."
The new company to manage the project, called Stratolaunch Systems, has the slogan "Any orbit. Any time."
Allen, the sole funding source for development, did not say how much he would spend on the project, but indicated it would be $200 million or more, an "order of magnitude" greater than the $20 million he spent backing the first privately funded, manned space flight in 2004.
Fifty-eight-year-old Allen - listed by Forbes magazine as the world's 57th-richest person, with a fortune of $13.2 billion - is the latest in a line of tech billionaires with interests in the privatization of space travel.
His space ambitions put him alongside Musk and Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, whose Blue Origin aims to put people into space at an affordable price, rather than the millions of dollars it has cost up to now.