Paul Allen, the Co-Founder of Microsoft, has suggested that he is willing to plough as much as $200 million or more of his wealth into building the world's largest airplane: a mobile platform for launching satellites at low cost. Mr Allen feels that if the plans come to fruition, the space industry would be transformed forever.
The concept was conceived by Burt Rutan, a respected aerospace designer, who is intent on combining parts removed from old Boeing 747 jets and a powerful rocket.
Dubbed Stratolaunch, the project will see decades-old technology combined with the latest booster-rocket designs. The overarching aim is to create the first privately funded space transportation system.
In 2004, Mr Allen and Mr Rutan came together for the SpaceShip One project, the first privately built rocket ship to reach the edge of space. Rumours suggest that Mr Allen, a billionaire investor and philanthropist, spent at least $25 million on their original venture. And while he has not offered any specific numbers, he said that the latest effort "will end up costing at least an order of magnitude more than I put into SpaceShip One".
Mr Allen released a statement confirming that he hopes to usher in "the dawn of radical change in the space launch industry", adding that his investment company wouldn't be ready with such a large financial commitment "if we didn't think there were going to be a lot of customers".
According to Stratolaunch officials, test flights of the hybrid space vehicles could begin in five years, while commercial operations could begin by the end of the decade. "I'm optimistic because we're reusing so much existing technology," Mr Allen commented.
Ultimately, Mr Allen hopes to spur human space flight. And according to Mr Rutan, , the ormer Microsoft chief technologist is "a visionary" when it comes to space flight, adding that he is "more than someone you just go to for money".
Virgin Galactic, of course, also harbors ambitions of satellite launches. Its primary focus, however, is giving exciting rides, offering passengers the sensations of weightlessness.
Despite this, the news of Mr Allen's huge investment has been welcomed by Sir Richard Branson, the chief of Virgin Atlantic. Explaining his stance, Sir Richard said that while "the potential of the industry we are leading is immense … [it] will depend on the continuing emergence of truly safe, affordable and transformative technologies".