Allen, Rutan plan huge plane to launch spaceships

Dec 13, 2011 By DONNA BLANKINSHIP and SETH BORENSTEIN , Associated Press
Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, pictured in 2006, on Tuesday announced plans for a new space travel system that would use the largest airplane ever built to launch rockets carrying cargo and eventually humans into space.

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan are building the biggest plane ever to haul 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 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 veterans who grew up on "Star Trek" and now want to fill a void created with the retirement of NASA's . Several companies are competing to develop spacecraft to deliver cargo and astronauts to the .

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 , which was launched in the air from a special aircraft in 2004. It won the $10 million Ansari X Prize for the first privately financed, manned spaceflight.

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 with its own ; it will blast into orbit after the plane climbs high into the atmosphere.

This method saves money by not using 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.

Explore further: Life on Mars? Implications of a newly discovered mineral-rich structure

More information: Stratolaunch Systems, http://www.stratolaunch.com

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User comments : 32

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PaulRC
1 / 5 (17) Dec 13, 2011
make the engines electric, coat the entire wings structure with solar cells to power them, and take off from a sunny desert, and make the cost per launch even cheaper.
GreyLensman
4.6 / 5 (11) Dec 13, 2011
Paul, do a bit of math with the solar constant. Seriousy.
fmfbrestel
4 / 5 (3) Dec 13, 2011
Well, if they stick to their schedules as well as spaceship 2 has, we might see a test flight sometime around 2025-2030.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.4 / 5 (7) Dec 13, 2011
make the engines electric, coat the entire wings structure with solar cells to power them, and take off from a sunny desert, and make the cost per launch even cheaper.
Your cells would provide enough power for cabin systems. Maybe.

Here is an article with a nice movie of the system
http://abcnews.go...15146297

Nik_2213
3 / 5 (1) Dec 13, 2011
Don't forget Spaceship 2 had a small, but lethal accident with the fuel. That prompted a lot of procedure changes...
Eric_B
5 / 5 (2) Dec 13, 2011
paul i think you are underestimating by factors how this thing will need energy.
after the duration of a sneeze when then the batteries run out, this behemoth still has to fly and its NOT a glider!

Sureshmysore
1.5 / 5 (8) Dec 13, 2011
I am not an engineer but
Assume this large plane can go to 45,000 ft at 600mph.

I would
fill up part of the plane with rocket fuel and once the plane reaches its max altitude and speed
I would
turn on the rocket motor (fed from the plane) and keep it running until the planes supply of rocket fuel runs out. This addition of the rocket motor may substantially increase the speed and/or height at release.

If the plane is too high for its engines it can glide back into the atmosphere until its engines can be used.
Cant hurt.
freethinking
1.4 / 5 (22) Dec 13, 2011
I hope he succeeds.

Wait, I need to go join the Democrat supported and encouraged, get rid of the 1%, unwashed, defecating in the street Occupy nuts who are trying to block the ports so I can't get my imported shipments in, which if successful would create jobs, reduce unemployment, increase the wealth of my employees and hopefully myself.

BTW, isn't Paul one of the 1%? The government should have taxed everything he had so that he could be like most of us. There is no reason for someone to be as rich as he is just so that he could afford to build a spaceship, possibly making space travel affordable, create high tech employment, etc.

Merry Christmas.
GDM
2.5 / 5 (6) Dec 13, 2011
Suresh: It's too long an explanation for this post, but sorry, that won't work.
Freethinker: I hope he succeeds as well. If Allen, Musk and Rutan et al can build an orbital system privately by 2016 for less than NASA or UAL, they will save this government a bunch of money, speed up the settlement of space, end UAL's monopoly, and make it easier (?) for civilians to go into space. Not all 1% ers support the current GOP goals, and not all 99% ers support Obama's. That's what makes a horse race.
Happy Holidays!
(Christians aren't the only ones with something to celebrate during this season, so you shouldn't be so exclusive.)
Newbeak
4.5 / 5 (2) Dec 13, 2011
This should work fine-it's basically a Pegasus rocket on steroids.
Jotaf
5 / 5 (5) Dec 13, 2011
"freethinking", way to derail the comments thread!
Anyway this is great, the first half of the article I kept thinking "please don't be just a suborbital space plane, come on don't do this to me" :) I'm glad to see my pessimism was unfounded!

The image of the twin-fuselage carrying a rocket in the middle is very powerful, this could turn out to be a symbol of a new space age -- I hope it does!
Nanobanano
1 / 5 (7) Dec 13, 2011
How much money do they plan on making on this?

I don't know anyone who can afford a ticket, honestly.

This thing is bigger than the Spruce Goose.

It's like something you used to see in science fiction or a video game.
holoman
1 / 5 (2) Dec 13, 2011

I guess solving anti-gravity problem out of question.
Tangent2
1 / 5 (2) Dec 14, 2011
I remember back in the day when Branson announced that they will start taking passengers up by around 2008 hahaha I hope we don't have to wait as long for the first passenger flights as we have for Diablo 3 to be released.
jimbo92107
3 / 5 (1) Dec 14, 2011
Great timing, make it from "shrilk," a new material reported on the same day as this project!
GaryB
4.6 / 5 (7) Dec 14, 2011
I hope he succeeds.

Wait, I need to go join the Democrat supported and encouraged, get rid of the 1%, unwashed, defecating in the street Occupy nuts

Merry Christmas.


And let's not forget that it's been 80 years of government policy developing the technology before the private market could stand a chance at private space flight. I don't care how rich Paul Allen is, he couldn't afford 1/1000th of the development cost. Same goes for the internet, same goes for GPS. I'd vote for anyone who believes gov policy is good as long as it can step back when the time is ripe and then let markets go to work. That the republicans have trashed this idea is in large part why we're losing out to China. Let's hope Obama, the victorious warrior, stays in power to keep big science and tech going and allow us all to have a

Happy Hanukah (see the light as it were)
qitana
not rated yet Dec 14, 2011
I hope he succeeds.

Wait, I need to go join the Democrat supported and encouraged, get rid of the 1%, unwashed, defecating in the street Occupy nuts who are trying to block the ports so I can't get my imported shipments in, which if successful would create jobs, reduce unemployment, increase the wealth of my employees and hopefully myself.

BTW, isn't Paul one of the 1%? The government should have taxed everything he had so that he could be like most of us. There is no reason for someone to be as rich as he is just so that he could afford to build a spaceship, possibly making space travel affordable, create high tech employment, etc.

Merry Christmas.


I think space flights are a long way off in solving the worlds problems, thousands of miles off
but merry christmas to you too and to all the rest
ShotmanMaslo
2 / 5 (3) Dec 14, 2011
I doubt this will be any cheaper than good old launch pad. I do hope it will be, tough.
210
1.3 / 5 (3) Dec 14, 2011

I would
fill up part of the plane with rocket fuel and once the plane reaches its max altitude and speed
I would turn on the rocket motor (fed from the plane) and keep it running until the planes supply of rocket fuel runs out. This addition of the rocket motor may substantially increase the speed and/or height at release.
If the plane is too high for its engines it can glide back into the atmosphere until its engines can be used.
Cant hurt.

Indeed: It would require a design change. STiffer airframe; change wingshape/aerodynamics; thrusters, on wingtips and fuselage for attitude control; ablative coating for re-entry heating; APU's just like the Space Shuttles;Better autopilot and remote control from ground for backup, etc, etc, etc...hey! Get in touch with these guys why don't you?! A supercritical swingwing combination..? The planes lifting ability would have to still get it to 45-60K feet B4 rockets came on & with D added fuel, top out/drop at 200-300K feet. Not bad, Do it!
Birger
4.3 / 5 (3) Dec 14, 2011
The Russians have plane designs of appropriates size that unfortunately never left the drawing board due to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
One design would have used the existing 6-engine Antonov 225 to lift a spacecraft into the stratosphere after which a tripropellant engine would send the spaceplane into orbit, using kerosene at low altitude and hydrogen at high altitude.

Apart from the fuel tank, the spaceplane would have been reusable. So Rutan is where the Soviets used to be in the late 1980s.
Birger
3.5 / 5 (2) Dec 14, 2011
Addendum: In the late 1970s, I wondered why NASA did not try to use a wide body aircraft in a "twin Mustang" derivative configuration to lift the S 4B stage of Apollo heritage into the stratosphere. It might have needed two of the J2 engines instead of one, but it would have been an almost-SSTO using an aircraft as first stage.
Of course, by that time the decision-makers had a deathgrip on the Space Shuttle project, which turned out to be a white elephant.
freethinking
1.3 / 5 (15) Dec 14, 2011
As I said I hope this project succeeds. If it fails (and I believe it will), its not my money that was spent, technology will have been developed, and jobs created.

BTW, If anyone wants to wish me a happy (put your holiday that you celebrate here) I appreciate it.

Since MOST people celebrate Christmas, and since I celebrate Christmas, and in the spirit of 116,

MERRY CHRISTMAS!
dschlink
5 / 5 (1) Dec 14, 2011
Sunshine is a very dilute source of energy (750w/m2), so it is useless for this application. Scratch calculation: 6 747 engines - about 180 Mw. At 100% efficiency, that would require wings 1000 meters long and 240 meters wide.

Chances of success? Rutan, Allen and Musk all have a history of making things happen.

Who can afford a flight? Well, not me, but I know about 30 people that could drop a million on a ticket and would. If the booster was a reusable version of the Falcon 5, a million would be on the high side.
Husky
5 / 5 (2) Dec 14, 2011
With the skilled hand of Rutan involved I think this outlandish goose is actually gonna fly. But what about the economics? Some observers say that the payload (around 6000 kg) isnt that impressive, on the other hand i've read somewhere that some big rockets eat away up to 15 m3 of fuel a second and a standard fully loaded Boeing 12-15 liters (that would be a cube of less than halve a metre(?), so if there is a great deal of fuel to be saved, they would need a fair number of medium sized cargo or tourists to make the initial development cost of the plane pay back, having said that I really like how they have the guts to break new ground in a risky market.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 14, 2011
BTW, If anyone wants to wish me a happy (put your holiday that you celebrate here) I appreciate it.
Sure. Happy sunday.
http://www.youtub...=related

-Heres to the end of religionist tyranny, a holiday worth celebrating.
With the skilled hand of Rutan involved I think this outlandish goose is actually gonna fly. But what about the economics?
Commercially it offers flexibility worldwide. Costs will drop based on number of units sold.
but it would have been an almost-SSTO using an aircraft as first stage.
Of course, by that time the decision-makers had a deathgrip on the Space Shuttle project, which turned out to be a white elephant.
The shuttle was primarily a military system - not meant to be cost-effective. Quickest to orbit, flexible, launched from hardened facilities at vandenberg afb. Which is why more rational designs such as this were not pursued.
chip_engineer
4 / 5 (1) Dec 14, 2011
Well I hope when they launch they play the theme tune for Thunderbirds International Rescue and that TB3 won't be needed.
Newbeak
4 / 5 (1) Dec 14, 2011
I doubt this will be any cheaper than good old launch pad. I do hope it will be, tough.

It has to be cheaper-there is no first stage lifting the vehicle from the ground.
GDM
1 / 5 (1) Dec 14, 2011
The "first stage" is the aircraft, which will take the rocket to 45,000 feet. Reusable, too, with a turn-around time similar to any other large aircraft. Just add fuel, attach another rocket, and go.
ShotmanMaslo
1.7 / 5 (3) Dec 15, 2011
I doubt this will be any cheaper than good old launch pad. I do hope it will be, tough.

It has to be cheaper-there is no first stage lifting the vehicle from the ground.


There is still first stage on the rocket. The aircraft is used as yet another stage before it. I have doubts whether this will be any cheaper than a launch pad, because it is more complex. Cost of rocket fuel is negligible, cost of this flying contraption may very well be higher.
omatumr
1 / 5 (3) Dec 16, 2011
technology tycoons clamoring to write America's next chapter in space flight . . .


. . . should first become familiar with the energy source that makes things happen on Earth and in the cosmos.

1. Einstein provided the key in 1905: E = mc^2 [1]
[Mass is stored energy; Energy makes things happen]

2. N-N repulsion in cores of atoms/stars/galaxies [2]

3. Was ignored after 1971 for political reasons [3], and

4. The message [4] in the "Cradle of the Nuclides" overlooked.

References:

1. "Ist die Trägheit eines Körpers von seinem Energieinhalt abhängig?", Annalen der Physik 18: 639643
www.fourmilab.ch/...mc2/www/

2. "Neutron repulsion" The APEIRON Journal, in press
http://arxiv.org/...1499.pdf

3. "Deep roots of the global climate scandal (1971-2011)"
http://dl.dropbox...oots.pdf

4. "Fear not, the universe is in good hands"
http://dl.dropbox..._Not.pdf

Best wishes,
O. K. Manuel
www.omatumr.com
Newbeak
5 / 5 (1) Dec 16, 2011
The "first stage" is the aircraft, which will take the rocket to 45,000 feet. Reusable, too, with a turn-around time similar to any other large aircraft. Just add fuel, attach another rocket, and go.

That's what I meant.
stripeless_zebra
1.5 / 5 (4) Dec 17, 2011
"He's the owner of the Seattle Seahawks football team as well as the Portland Trailblazers of the NBA."

Wow! Another rocket scientist.