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Surprising Science

Is Stratolaunch the Next Spruce Goose?

Microsoft co-creator Paul Allen wants to make an airplane that can launch satellites and perhaps manned crews. Is the engineering feasible or is this the next Spruce Goose?

What’s the Latest Development?


Microsoft co-creator and billionaire Paul Allen recently announced his plan to create a revolutionary airplane, dubbed Stratolaunch, capable of launching rockets into space but now questions are being raised about the project’s feasibility. “‘I don’t know that it’s a better way’ to launch payloads,” said former NASA administrator Mike Griffin. “It’s an approach which offers some very substantial operational flexibility, much reduced range requirements, freedom from a lot of the limitations that come from launching with land-based ranges.”

What’s the Big Idea?

If a giant revolutionary airplane can be madethe wingspan of Stratolaunch is longer than a football fieldAllen’s team may be up to the task. Combining his personal wealth with Griffin’s advice and the engineering skills of Burt Rutan, the famed engineer who won the $10-million Ansari X PRIZE for designing what would become Richard Branson’s space tourism vehicle, a veritable dream team for space entrepreneurship has been created. Allen views the decrease of the government’s space budget as an opportunity for private investment.


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