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Paul G. Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, said Tuesday that he was entering the rocket business with a concept seldom used until now: a plane that can take off the conventional way and then, at 30,000 feet, launch a rocket to orbit, carrying with it satellites, supplies and — eventually — people. The first rocket launching could be as soon as 2016.
“With government-funded spaceflight diminishing, there is a much expanded opportunity for privately funded efforts,” Mr. Allen said. He noted that NASA had ended its space shuttle program this year, scrapped plans to return to the Moon and begun relying solely on Russia for launching astronauts to the International Space Station. He said his new effort would help keep “keep America at the forefront of space exploration.