By Mary Grady, Contributing editor
Aircraft designer Burt Rutan has teamed up again with investor Paul Allen -- who bankrolled Rutan's winning entry in the 2004 X Prize -- to build what they say will be the world's largest airplane, "Stratolaunch," capable of launching payloads into space. The composite aircraft, weighing 1.2 million pounds, with a 385-foot wingspan, resembles an upsized WhiteKnight, with twin fuselages joined by a long wing and a carrier mechanism in the middle. Plans call for six jet engines like those used on 747s, and booster rocket engines from Elon Musk's SpaceX. Test flights are planned for 2015.
Allen has formed a new company, Stratolaunch Systems, to build the airplane. He said on Tuesday he is prepared to spend millions of dollars in pursuit of his goal. "There's a certain number of dreams in your life that you want to fulfill, and this is a dream that I'm very comfortable will come to fruition," he said. Scaled already has built a new hangar at Mojave to build the airplane, and acquired a pair of 747s that will be cannibalized for parts and engines. "I have long dreamed about taking the next big step in private space flight after the success of SpaceShipOne -- to offer a flexible, orbital space delivery system," Allen said, in a statement. "We are at the dawn of radical change in the space launch industry."