In the last gilded age, the very rich built monster houses in Newport and castles at San Simeon. Now it appears that the hot real estate is all in space, as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson fire off rockets. Now Microsoft Billionaire Paul Allen joins the party with Stratolaunch, the biggest airplane (by wingspan) since the Spruce Goose.
We liked Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket because it was reusable; this gets the TreeHugger seal of approval because it is so much more energy efficient than launching a rocket from the ground. It is also likely more flexible and dependable;
Stratolaunch’s reusability and air-launch capabilities enable us to take an airport-style approach to operations for launch services. Stratolaunch will take off from a runway, rather than a logistically vulnerable fixed range, which allows us to avoid hazards such as inclement weather, airborne traffic and heavy marine activity. Stratolaunch’s airborne launch platform significantly reduces the risk of costly delays or cancellations.
It is powered by six big Pratt and Whitney PW4056 engines, which are not the biggest but have been around for a while. On their website they call them “Boeing 747 engines” but they have been used on a lot of different airplanes.
The Stratolaunch aircraft is designed for a max takeoff weight of 1,300,000 lbs., meaning it’s capable of carrying payloads up to approximately 550,000 lbs. As we announced last fall , we will initially launch a single Orbital ATK Pegasus XL vehicle with the capability to launch up to three Pegasus vehicles in a single sortie mission. We have already started preparations for launch vehicle delivery to our Mojave facilities. We’re actively exploring a broad spectrum of launch vehicles that will enable us to provide more flexibility to customers.
I suppose that it is a good thing that all these rich guys are investing in making space travel cheaper and more efficient. But so much of it seems like boys with toys. In the last gilded age, Andrew Carnegie used his money to build libraries; in this one, Bill Gates is trying to cure disease and save millions of lives. More of that, please.