Additional design modifications for the rocket, such as the addition or wings or fins, will also be assessed, Harris said.
The company is expecting to find a range of customers, spanning the private and public sector.
"Obviously [this is a] big initial investment that we wouldn't be making if we didn't think there would be a lot of customers out there," Allen said. "But, you have a certain number of dreams in your life that you want to fulfill, and this is a dream that I'm very excited about to see come to fruition."
Investing in space
Today's announcement is not Allen's first foray into the realm of private space travel. The billionaire has supported a series of science and aerospace projects over the years.
Allen first partnered with Rutan, founder of the aerospace design company Scaled Composites, to bankroll more than $20 million for the construction of a manned vehicle capable of reaching the edge of space. In 2004, the SpaceShipOne suborbital rocket plane became the first privately built manned craft to reach suborbital space.
In October of that year, SpaceShipOne was piloted to suborbital altitudes of more than 360,000 feet (112 kilometers) on back-to-back flights that helped Rutan and Allen snag the $10 million Ansari X prize.
In addition to financing the development of SpaceShipOne, Allen also funded the construction of a collection of 42 radio dishes for the nonprofit Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute. The Allen Telescope Array, named for the billionaire, is used to listen for alien signals in the SETI Institute's ongoing search for life beyond Earth.
Stratolaunch Systems will be led by Gary Wentz, a former chief engineer at NASA. Former NASA administrator Mike Griffin is also one of the company's board members. Griffin joined Allen and Rutan in a press conference today from Seattle to announce the new project.
"We believe this technology has the potential to someday make spaceflight routine by removing many of the constraints associated with ground launched rockets," Griffin said in a statement. "Our system will also provide the flexibility to launch from a large variety of locations."
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