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Paul Allen-backed Stratolaunch Systems promises flexible, low-cost access to space

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When Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, legendary aerospace designer Burt Rutan and private spaceflight proponent Elon Musk team up on something, folks are bound to pay attention -- especially when they're promising nothing short of a "revolution in space transportation." At the center of that ambitious goal is a new company backed by Allen, Stratolaunch Systems, and a massive new aircraft to be designed and built by Rutan's Scaled Composites. If all goes as planned, it will be the size of two 747s (with a wingspan greater than the length of a football field), and it will be able to carry a 120 foot long rocket built by Musk's SpaceX to an altitude suitable for launch into orbit. Stratolaunch hopes to do that for a "fraction" of the cost of current launches, and it intends to eventually send everything from satellites to manned capsules into space.

As you might expect, however, all of that is still in the early stages. According to Spaceflight Now, Stratolaunch currently employs around 100 people (it says it plans a "significant ramp-up"), and complete details on the aircraft itself remain a bit murky (intentionally so, according to Allen). Flight testing is currently slated for the "2015 timeframe," though, with the first launch expected a year later. What's more, while it's not clear how much Allen plans to invest in the project, he has managed to attract some other big names to the project; former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has joined as a board member, and Gary Wentz, a former chief engineer at NASA, will serve as President and CEO. Head on past the break for a teaser video of what they have planned.



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