Paul Allen’s Vision for What’s Next in Space

Stratolaunch carrier aircraft under construction in Mojave, Calif. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)
Stratolaunch carrier aircraft under construction in Mojave, Calif. (Credit: Stratolaunch Systems)

by Chuck Beames
President, Vulcan Aerospace

“What’s next?”

Paul Allen asks me this question frequently, pushing me – and the entire Vulcan Inc. team – to think creatively and push the boundaries of possibility. Not just to improve what exists, but to think about what should exist. Today, we’re announcing an innovative new approach to the commercial space industry—Vulcan Aerospace.

When it comes to space, Mr. Allen has already achieved significant milestones. In collaboration with Burt Rutan, he led the team that completed the first manned private spaceflight on SpaceShipOne, which won the Ansari XPRIZE in 2004. His commitment to space continues with Stratolaunch, his commercial space project dedicated to facilitating a shift from the current orbital launch model to a flexible, less expensive model. It is this enthusiasm for high-impact initiatives and world-class projects that formed Vulcan Aerospace.

What is Vulcan Aerospace?

A new organization within the Vulcan Inc. family, Vulcan Aerospace is the manifestation of Mr. Allen’s vision for the future of space.

At this year’s 31st Annual Space Symposium, I had the privilege of sharing how Vulcan Aerospace is shifting the way we conceptualize and approach space. Our vision for this shift is “NextSpace,” a collaborative ecosystem dedicated to everything from exploration and learning to utilizing space as a platform for development and expansion.

Why now?

The knowledge of space has changed the way humans understand our place in the universe, and it continues to provide opportunities to push the boundaries of what we know. We’ve seen a transition from Old Space – a government-capitalized industry focused on military uses of space and general exploration, to New Space – the emergence of entrepreneurial and private space companies including Stratolaunch Systems, to what we’re now calling NextSpace – a shift toward inclusiveness as the hallmark of a new era in the expanded utilization of space. Access to space is also expensive and inconvenient, with significant constraints in launch range and operation infrastructure. Vulcan Aerospace wants to support a collaborative ecosystem.

Stratolaunch is the first step in NextSpace

In 2011, Mr. Allen founded Stratolaunch Systems to challenge the current model of orbital launches and to explore a more flexible and less expensive option. Under the oversight of Vulcan Aerospace, Stratolaunch continues to march toward demonstrating an air launch system capable of transporting payloads to low Earth orbit using a larger carrier aircraft acting as a mobile launch range. Stratolaunch’s mobile launch range will optimize launch operations and improve flexibility and availability. This new architecture will expand mission and operational flexibility by decoupling launch service from its dependence on traditional ground launch ranges.

Our mobile launch range’s non-traditional approach to space access will inspire other ways of utilizing space as a platform for development, collaboration and expansion. The Stratolaunch aircraft is about 80% fabricated and 40% assembled, and is on track for first flight in 2016.

What’s next for Vulcan Aerospace?

Vulcan Aerospace is focused on improving the convenience and reducing the cost of space access for the entrepreneur. This is the essential first step towards increasing the commercial use of space. It will be the next groundbreaking development for space transportation and exploration.

Like all of Mr. Allen’s projects, Vulcan Aerospace asks, “What’s next?” The company is forward-thinking and risk-taking, while remaining cognizant of discipline and lessons of the past. Much like the migration of the integrated circuit chip from its use in warehouse-sized mainframe computers to hand-held mobile devices has altered the course of modern life, Vulcan Aerospace believes versatile, low-cost access to space will do the same for the expansion of the physical boundaries of humankind.

Chuck Beames is the president of Vulcan Aerospace Corporation and executive director of Stratolaunch Systems.