Astrium’s business jet-sized spaceplane will take off and land conventionally from a standard airport runway using its jet engines. At an altitude of about 12km, the rocket engine will be ignited and in only 80 seconds the craft climbs to 60km altitude. The rocket propulsion system is then shut down as the plane’s inertia carries it on to over 100km, enabling passengers hover weightlessly for some minutes and to witness the most spectacular view of Earth imaginable. After slowing down during descent, the jet engines are restarted for a normal landing at the airfield. The entire trip will last approximately two hours.
Astrium (a wholly owned subsidiary of EADS) has the necessary expertise for spaceplane development, being today the industrial prime contractor for Ariane 5 and the main European contributor to the International Space Station. Astrium is committed to the highest level of safety and intends have this commercial vehicle certified. For both the internal and external design of the spaceplane, Astrium’s engineers worked with Australian-born designer Marc Newson, whose aesthetic vision and uncompromising originality have won him the highest international acclaim.
Operators using the Astrium spaceplane could offer such a high-comfort, safe space flight for a price per passenger of around €200,000. First commercial flights could be possible about seven years after procuring development financing.
Such a new vehicle able to operate at altitudes between those of conventional aircraft (20km) and those of satellites (200km) could be used for various other applications and is a precursor for rapid ‘point-to-point’ transport vehicles or quick access to space – opening up previously unexplored territory.