Microsoft billionaire aims for the stars with space plane venture

14 Dec

The planned rocket-launching plane has a wingspan of 117 metres.

The plane that his new company, Stratolaunch Systems, plans to build will be larger and heavier than the Spruce Goose, Howard Hughes’ record-setting flying boat that flew, just once, in 1947.

With wings that will stretch 117 metres, it will dwarf the double-decker Airbus A380, which is the biggest commercial passenger plane flown today. It will take off from a runway, fly to a normal cruising altitude and then drop off a rocket, eliminating the need for costly launching pads.

”With government-funded spaceflight diminishing, there is a much expanded opportunity for privately funded efforts,” Mr Allen said. He noted that NASA had ended its space shuttle program this year, scrapped plans to return to the moon and begun relying solely on Russia for launching astronauts to the International Space Station.

He said his new effort would help keep ”keep America at the forefront of space exploration”.

Mr Allen thus joins the ranks of tycoons who are placing big bets on the heavens. The most prominent is Sir Richard Branson, whose Virgin Galactic subsidiary is planning to fly tourists on short jaunts to the edge of space.

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Others include Elon Musk, who used his fortune as a founder of PayPal to establish SpaceX, a rocket maker that is racking up contracts with NASA, and Jeffrey Bezos, the Amazon founder, who has a space company called Blue Origin.

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