Superior Vehicle

The best qualities of the rocket and the best qualities of the airplane will be combined in a single vehicle, the advanced spaceplane. In particular, a superior airplane with advanced atmospheric utilization will be integrated with a superior air-breathing power plant, giving rise to a vastly superior hybrid vehicle. The power plant will operate as a conventional jet engine in the atmosphere, and as a rocket in space, demonstrating altitude compensation at all altitudes. Moreover, the advanced spaceplane will not only use the atmosphere but store it in liquid form for later use in space. It will be able to fill its own propellant tanks with liquefied air while airborne, instead of lifting off under the burden of this essential but extremely heavy oxidizer. The technique of using the atmosphere in clever ways to achieve the energies necessary for spaceflight will characterize the successful spaceplane (Fig. 2.3).

But why spaceplanes? Why not use advanced rockets instead? Does sending a winged vehicle, with all that dead weight, all the way to the Moon possibly make any sense? The answers to these questions require that we peer intently into the future, which is fast approaching.

Fig. 2.3 Artist's rendition of the Skylon spaceplane in orbit (courtesy Reaction Engines Limited)

Let us then take a peek at this future, imagining for a moment that we are already there. Here is what we "know." Advanced spaceplanes are superior in every respect to nonwinged space vehicles. They are reusable, safe, efficient, economical, and comfortable. Wings enable reusability and aerodynamic efficiency. Reusability increases flight frequency, leading directly to safety and economy. Comfort, reliability, safety, and economy are demanded by the space passenger transport industry, the largest market by far in space operations. Making sensible use of the preexisting aviation infrastructure, spaceplanes are now expanding that to the Moon and beyond. Spaceplanes not only depend on that infrastructure, but are a part of it. Advances in engine technology, materials, and atmospheric utilization have made the advanced spaceplane a reality in the twenty-first century. This is the essence of the advanced spaceplane.

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