Microsoft Co-Founder Paul Allen and aerospace designer Burt Rutan said on Tuesday they plan to privately build the largest airplane in the world with the hopes that it can serve as a mobile launchpad to project satellites into space at a low cost. Funding the actual rocket booster (as opposed to the launchpad plane) will be PayPal tycoon-turned-rocket-and-electric-car entrepreneur Elon Musk. The prospect of internet billionaires teaming up to create deviously large space technology sounds like the beginning of a James Bond film, and indeed, sounding a bit like a science fiction character, Allen said he wants to bring "the dawn of radical change in the space launch industry." The Wall Street Journal reports that the details of the project, too, "seems to border on science fiction."
It envisions a behemoth mother ship with twin narrow fuselages, featuring six Boeing Corp. 747 engines attached to a record 385-foot wingspan, plus a smaller rocket pod nestled underneath. Expected to weigh roughly 1.2 million pounds, the combination would roughly match the maximum takeoff weight of the largest, fully-loaded Airbus A380 superjumbo plane, but the wings would be more than 120 feet longer that those of the Airbus A380.
Translation: It's gonna be a really big plane. Lest you fear they might just be trying to catapult pop singer Lance Bass into space again, they say the technology is more practically intended to provide a cheap option for launching satellites into space, and only way down the road do they envision using it to launch people into orbit. If all goes well, planes could be tossing your satellites into the sky as soon as the end of the decade.