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World’s largest garage door: First giant step for Allen’s spaceship

Courtesy of Stratolaunch Systems

Billionaire Paul Allen’s spaceship project has reached a milestone in the form of the world's widest garage door. 

The door will make way for a strange vehicle under assembly in the Mojave Desert. 

Allen's team has the most unusual plan, out of several private space ventures, for sending people and satellites into orbit. They'll launch their rockets from the belly of a gigantic airplane, which looks like two Boeing 747s bonded together. And constructing that bizarre jet requires a building wide enough to shelter it.

“It’s just a massive structure because of the wingspan,” says Paul Ghaffari, who oversees Paul Allen’s space projects as chief investment officer of his company, Vulcan. The wingspan is essentially twice as wide as a jumbo commercial jet like the Boeing 777.

The garage door on the hangar, which just opened, is apparently the widest ever built. 

“Paul Allen has always had that aspiration to come up with a new way to put humans into space (since he was a kid)," says Ghaffari. Allen was a backer of the first manned private spacecraft, called SpaceShipOne. The new space race is to make it commercially viable.

“The whole idea is to try to get a capability for commercial payload that’s more flexible, safer, and we believe more cost-effective than the traditional ground launch systems,” he says. "Ground launch" means blasting-off a rocket from a launch pad.  This rocket will fire its engines after being carried up to 30,000 feet.

The first test flight is supposed to come in just three years. It’s one of three spaceship projects coming out of Seattle these days.  

Spaceships seem to be the new hobby for billionaires. Jeff Bezos of Amazon has a company called Blue Origin which is working with NASA to send humans to the space station, as well as tourists into orbit. And Google’s founders have backed a company in Bellevue, called Planetary Resources, that is serious about landing on asteroids and digging for precious metals.


Facts & Figures for Paul Allen's Stratolaunch

  • Aircraft wingspan: 385 feet
  • Powered by six 747 engines
  • Capable of delivering unmanned payloads and manned spacecraft to orbit
  • Orbital mission range: 1,300 nautical miles
  • Initial test flight of carrier aircraft: targeted for 2016
  • Corporate headquarters: Huntsville, Alabama
  • Assembly facilities: Mojave Air and Space Port
  • Floor area of Mojave assembly hangar: 103,257 square feet

        Source: Vulcan

Keith Seinfeld is a former KNKX/KPLU reporter who covered health, science and the environment over his 17 years with the station. He also served as assistant news director. Prior to KLPU, he was a staff reporter at The Seattle Times and The News Tribune in Tacoma and a freelance writer-producer. His work has been honored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.