Paul Allen Launches 'Vulcan Aerospace' to Boost Private Space Travel

Building Stratolaunch's Carrier Plane
Inside Stratolaunch Systems' hangar in Mojave, California, where the company's huge carrier aircraft is coming together. (Image credit: Vulcan Aerospace)

Billionaire Paul Allen has formed a new company to help make spaceflight more affordable and efficient.

Vulcan Aerospace, which was unveiled Monday (April 13), will spearhead the space projects of Vulcan, Inc., a company Allen and his sister Jody formed in 1986.

"Vulcan Aerospace is the company within Vulcan that plans and executes projects to shift how the world conceptualizes space travel through cost reduction and on‐demand access," Vulcan Aerospace president Chuck Beames and his colleague Kyu Hwang wrote in a paper describing the company that was presented at the 31 st Space Symposium in Colorado Springs this week.

"Vulcan Aerospace has its heritage in SpaceShipOne and oversees the Stratolaunch Systems project," they added. "Additionally, Vulcan Aerospace collaborates across Vulcan Inc. for projects dealing with space."

SpaceShipOne won the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004 for becoming the first privately funded manned vehicle to reach space twice in the span of two weeks. The project was a joint venture involving Allen and Scaled Composites, the California-based aerospace firm headed by engineer Burt Rutan.

Allen, who co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates, teamed up with Rutan again in 2011 to form Stratolaunch Systems, a company that aims to launch satellites from the belly of a huge carrier aircraft with a wingspan of 385 feet (117 meters).

Stratolaunch's air-launch strategy should reduce costs and increase flexibility, Vulcan Aerospace representatives say.

"Stratolaunch’s ability to launch from variable locations will enable satellites and humans to be efficiently inserted into their most optimal orbit at a time of the customer’s choosing," Beames and Hwang wrote. "Launching far away from populated areas (i.e. middle of the ocean) also significantly reduces public safety risk. Flexibility will be greater when the Stratolaunch system is adapted to launch various types of launch vehicles. The carrier vehicle is being developed by Scaled Composites and the launch vehicle by Vulcan Aerospace."

The Stratolaunch carrier plane is on track to make its first test flight in 2016, according to Beames.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.