Seven years ago, they won a $10 million Ansari X Prize, and now software billionaire Paul Allen and aerospace guru Burt Rutan have decided the funds to good use. Teaming up with SpaceX and other top-flight racketeers, the duo plans to come out with an “air-launched orbital delivery system” by constructing what they call “the largest aircraft ever flown.” The new company is tagged Stratolaunch Systems, will see team Allen-Rutan taking help from California-based SpaceX and Alabama-based Dynetics as new suppliers. Other names in the partnership include former NASA chief engineer Gary Wentz as the new CEO and president, with former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin also a part of the board. If SpaceShipOne were estimated at $25 to $30 million, Stratolaunch wouldn’t cost less than $250 million to $300 million to start with. SpaceShipOne launches need a “carrier airplane that weighs more than 1.2 million pounds, with a wingspan of more than 380 feet“.
Compare that to Stratolaunch’s dual-fuselage plane, which would need six 747 engines and a 12,000-foot runway for landing. Wentz revealed that there is a contract in place to get two Boeing 747s, with the new plane’s “wings and fuselage structure would be fabricated from advanced carbon composites” .For now, however, there are no plans to make flights commercial. Once safety tested, expect something economical, as Rutan says, “we could be very competitive with the $60 million-a-seat fee that the Russians will be charging NASA over the next few years“.