The European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company's Astrium Space Transportation division announced, in June 2006, that they would build on the concept of the Rocketplane XP, as the most viable commercial spacecraft concept. This huge aerospace company, second only to Boeing, studied this and other vertical launch concepts before making its determination. Its endorsement of the spaceplane idea is therefore a significant development.
The business jet-sized Astrium spaceplane will take one pilot and four passengers on 90-min. cruises into near-Earth space above 100 km. Similar to Rocketplane XP, the EADS spaceplane will take off and land on runways using conventional jet
engines. These will take the spaceplane up to an altitude of some 39,000 ft, at which point the methane-fueled rocket engine will ignite and burn for 80 s. This boosts the Astrium spaceplane to 200,000 ft on autopilot, followed by 3 min of Zero-G ballistic flight peaking at or above 330,000 ft. Small rocket thrusters maintain control during the airless, weightless portion of the trajectory. Passengers are expected to be able to float out of their seats for several minutes before buckling back in, prior to atmospheric reentry.
A unique feature will be balancing, self-adjusting seats to ease the 4.5-G reentry loads on space tourists. For $175,000 to $220,000 each, passengers will go through 1 week of preflight training, as opposed to Soyuz passengers who endure 6 months of strenuous training after paying at least 100 times that amount. The EADS spaceplane is expected to take 4 years to develop beginning in 2008, with first commercial spaceflights in 2012, given adequate private investment estimated at $1.3 billion. Private consultants expect a market of 15,000 space tourist passengers per year by 2020.2
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