Stratolaunch Breaks Ground on Hangar for Largest Airplane Ever

Mojave Desert facility to house the 1.2 million-pound carrier airplane.

Stratolaunch Airplane

Stratolaunch Airplane

** An artist's illustration of the Stratolaunch

Stratolaunch Systems, the new space tourism venture launched in partnership between billionaire Paul Allen and legendary aircraft designer Burt Rutan, has broken ground on a hangar facility in the Mojave Desert intended to house what would be the largest airplane ever.

The hangar facility will span 92,640 square feet and is slated for completion in mid-2013. The plane it will encompass will be built at the Mojave Air & Space Port, where Stratolaunch is assembling an 88,000-square-foot factory specifically for the purpose.

The construction marks the first steps toward production of the ambitious project, which was first announced in December. According to Gary Wentz, chief executive of Stratolaunch, over the next year the company will work to salvage supply parts for the project from a pair of 747-400 aircraft.

Those parts will help build the airplane meant to serve as a giant carrier aircraft able to launch a 490,000-pound rocket into orbit from an altitude of approximately 30,000 feet. The dual-fuselage aircraft will rely on six Boeing 747 engines, will weight more than 1.2 million pounds and will require a runway 12,000 feet long, according to the current design.

The project is the latest pioneering endeavor undertaken by the innovators behind the SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo. The SpaceShipTwo, launched with the intention of creating affordable commercial space travel, is selling seats on the suborbital spacecraft for $200,000 a pop. Hundreds of seats have already been reserved, although an official date for the first commercial flight has not been set.