Stratolaunch’s space plane ambitions rise again

Stratolaunch plane
An aerial view shows the Stratolaunch airplane outside its hangar in May 2017. The twin-fuselage aircraft is the world’s largest airplane, measured by wingspan. (Stratolaunch Photo)

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch space venture is returning to an idea it’s long mulled over: launching payloads, and possibly people, into orbit on a reusable space plane.

The concept, known internally as “Black Ice,” would involve the midflight launch of a space shuttle-like vehicle from what will be the world’s largest airplane. It was mentioned today in The Washington Post, in an excerpt adapted from Post reporter Christian Davenport’s forthcoming book, “The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos.”

“I would love to see us have a full reusable system and have weekly, if not more often, airport-style, repeatable operations going,” Allen told Davenport during a Seattle interview.

In a statement emailed to GeekWire, Stratolaunch confirmed its interest in the concept.

“Our vision for Stratolaunch is to offer a broad spectrum of capabilities from small, medium, to fully reusable,” the company said. “Black Ice is an aspirational concept we are exploring; however, no decisions have been made yet.”

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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