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Entrepreneur and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen plans to create the world’s largest aeroplane within the next five years.

The Stratolaunch, with a wingspan of 385ft, is 95ft wider than the largest passenger plane, the Airbus 380, and is designed to carry unmanned or manned space vehicles and cargo high into the earth’s atmosphere for an air launch into space

Powered by six 747 jet engines, the plane will require a 12,000ft runway for takeoffs and landings. Once in flight, the plane will disengage from its capsule and return to the ground, while the capsule launches multistage booster rockets to propel it into space orbit or to the International Space Station. Allen’s company, Stratolaunch System, plans to start with unmanned cargo loads before it moves into launching passengers into low earth orbit.

According to Allen and his partners, this air-launch-to-orbit system is far less expensive and far more flexible than traditional ground launches, which are still used by some private companies for satellite launches. The massive plane can return to load up for new missions quickly and can provide an alternative to launch facilities that are already backed up with existing space missions. The plane will be built in California at the Mojave Air and Space Port in a new Stratolaunch hangar currently under construction.

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