Washington: Paul Allen, one of the co-founders of Microsoft, announced Tuesday that he and entrepreneur Burt Rutan are set to develop a giant airplane from which to launch spacecraft into orbit. The airplane will have a wingspan of more than 380 feet and its creators hope to make the first trial flight in 2016.

Rutan and Allen previously built SpaceShipOne, the first civilian rocket to take passengers into space.

“I have long dreamed about taking the next big step in private space flight,” Allen said in a statement.

To carry out the project, Allen and Rutan founded Stratolaunch Systems, to be based in Huntsville, Alabama, and led by former NASA chief engineer Gary Wentz.

The company will build a mobile launching system with three main components: the carrier plane, a multistage rocket and an integration system.

The airplane will transport a space capsule that has its own rockets, so that it can be launched into orbit from an altitude of 30,000 feet, a system they say will save costs since there will be no need to use the great volumes of fuel needed by spacecraft launched from the ground.

The airplane with its six 747 motors will weigh more than 500 tonnes and will be built in the Stratolaunch hangars at the Mojave Air and Space Port in New Mexico.

For takeoff and landing, it will require a 3.6-kilometer runway.

“Stratolaunch Systems will bring airport-like operations to the launch of commercial and government payloads and, eventually, human missions,'” according to the statement.

(Agencies)