Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Thinking big in space

Dec 27th 2011, 4:25 by N.L. | CHICAGO (Online only)

AS A small boy Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, dreamed of going into space. He even tried to launch the hollow aluminium arm of a chair, stuffed with propellant, into orbit. It didn't work out. But his latest adventure in space travel—a joint venture with Burt Rutan, a famous designer of aircraft—looks more promising. Earlier this month, the two of them said they will build an air-launched orbital delivery system. To do this, Paul Allen’s company Stratolaunch Systems will have to build the world’s largest aeroplane.

The Stratolaunch, as the plane will be called, will be big. Really, really big. It will have six engines, a wingspan of 117 metres (385 feet) and weigh about 544 tonnes. (The wingspan of Boeing's 747 is around half that of the Stratolaunch.) Taking off will require 3.6km of runway, and the aircraft will launch its rocket—a shortened version of the Falcon 9 rocket, built by another private space firm called SpaceX—at around 9,100 metres. The whole contraption will be able to put about 6 tonnes of payload into low-earth orbit. [More...]

Correction: I am hoping by the time anyone else reads this article again the word "hanger" will have been changed to read "hangar". As anyone older than about eight should know, one is a place for clothing and the other is a place for aircraft. I do honestly know the difference but I don't know how it came to pass that anyone would be said to be looking to find a hanger big enough for a large aeroplane.