Astrium Unveils New Spaceship Plans (Video Simulation & Pictures)

Europe’s leading spacecraft manufacturer EADS Astrium, the builders of the Ariane rocket (that launches many of Europe’s space missions), has announced plans to mass produce the next generation of space planes. Developing the design of a single-stage “rocket plane”, the company believes there will be a demand for 10 spacecraft per year when the space tourism idea “takes off”. Astrium won’t be running tourist trips themselves; they will simply supply the hardware to space tourism companies predicting the industry will progress along the same lines of a classical aeronautical business model. Astrium has even released an excellent and inspiring (and realistic!) promotional video simulation of the spacecraft launch and view of space…

The Astrium Jet takes off like a conventional aircraft, artists impression (credit: Astrium/Marc Newson Ltd.)
Astrium has big plans. As space tourism companies begin to emerge, like Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, the technology capable of taking tourists above 100 km into the threshold of space is developing at an accelerated rate.

At first glance, the new Astrium concept looks just like a conventional jet, but this aircraft is different. For the first part of the journey high into Earth’s atmosphere, the spacecraft uses conventional jets (that require oxygen to function). At about 12 km, the jets will be rendered useless as atmospheric oxygen begins to thin out. At this point rocket engines, supplied by onboard tanks of oxygen and methane, will rumble into operation blasting the craft vertically into space at high velocity. The spacecraft will have covered 60 km in 80 seconds and will have enough momentum to continue into space, breaching the 100 km “lower limit” of space.

The Astrium rocket blasts the craft from 12km to 100km into space - artist impression (credit: Astrium/Marc Newson)

Watch the Astrium simulation of a trip on board the spacecraft.

Astrium forecasts a healthy market for their space planes, and although it won’t be in the same league as Boeing or Airbus, it will be a big step for space tourism.

One of the big players in the space tourism market will be Virgin Galactic. Virgin’s business plan is to sell tourist flights as well as develop and maintain their own spacecraft (by partnering with Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites). Astrium’s plans are a lot simpler. They will manufacture the space planes and sell them to space tourism companies. Assuming a similar pattern to classical aerospace business models, there could be many tourist carriers using the same Astrium-class spacecraft.

It will develop towards a classical aeronautical business model. Someone will build the planes; somebody will operate them; somebody will sell the tickets; somebody will provide the accommodation – like any tourism.” – Robert Laine, chief technical officer (CTO) of EADS (Astrium)

The Astrium craft in space - artist impression (credit: Astrium/Marc Newson)

Speaking in London at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, delivering the 99th Kelvin Lecture, Robert Laine, CTO of EADS (Astrium), outlined Astrium’s plan for the future. According to Laine, Astrium’s new space plane is developing quickly, and the aerodynamic structure is undergoing final wind tunnel tests. The Romeo rocket engine has been successful in advanced tests, and has run for 31 seconds. To provide the craft with enough boost to leave the Earth’s atmosphere, it will need to burn for 80 seconds. The oxygen-methane fuel engine will give the spacecraft a high enough velocity (1 km/s) to exit the atmosphere.

Weightlessness inside the Astrium spaceship - artist impression (credit: Astrium/Marc Newson)

About 50% of the starting mass of the plane will be fuel. The preliminary design will have enough room for five people – four tourists, one pilot.

Ultimately the Astrium design is hoped to have a lifetime of 10 years and will be easy to maintain. What makes this design even more interesting is its conventional take-off and landing, plus there is no requirement for a launch vehicle. The craft could be used in conventional airports, but Astrium believes custom-made spaceports will be a better solution to avoid busy air traffic. Laine believes that the Astrium spacecraft can be fully operational within five years of a financing deal being signed.

The spacecraft begins its descent to Earth (credit: Astrium/Marc Newson)

Although weightlessness is only likely to be three minutes long, the two hour round trip will certainly be exhilarating. The three-G acceleration as the rocket engines kick in will be worth the trip alone!

Keep an eye on Astrium, they may be a close second to manufacturing a space tourist craft after Richard Branson…

Source: BBC

19 Replies to “Astrium Unveils New Spaceship Plans (Video Simulation & Pictures)”

  1. To Silver Thread:

    You’re right, I’d need something a bit more substantial for the money… Let’s just see if Bigalow Aerospace can get their orbital hotel up and running…


  2. Orbital hotels will be many years away. This is a ‘first step’. The market will clearly be governed by the cost, but if it’s ‘reasonable’count me in!

  3. I am not too bothered about having somewhere to go, I think for me just being in space would be enough!

    Surely just being outside of our own environment is good enough!

  4. They need a destination in Space. Not just a three minute flight, but a legitimate hotel room of some kind. I know it’s insanely expensive but to really get a feel for the idea of space tourism, a person will want to have a chance to orbit the earth once or twice I think. This is definitely a step in the right direction and the ship looks very clean .

  5. Whatever gets us there. Frankly I am surprised that we’re throwing perfectly good infrastructure back down the gravity well- I’m referring to Jules Vernes and Soyuz- can’t we use something less valuable for ISS garbage re-entry and keep the resupply vehicles up there in a graveyard orbit? Another stupid question I have is: what will happen to the ISS when it reaches end of life?

  6. The Soyuz capsules are dumped because they have a short shelf life, somthing like 3 to 6 months.

  7. As NASA seems to lack any foresight and vision, I suppose we need to look elsewhere for the next great steps into space.

  8. Any flight involving only 4 passengers is going to be prohibitively expensive for, well, just about anyone.
    Yeah, I’ll wait til they can land “up there” and I can float into a space canister for weightless lunch!

  9. Maybe instead of trying to shoot down pieces of the ISS when it’s “life” comes to an end, we should instead try a “self-destruct” device?

  10. About bloody time! If we’re going to burn hydrocarbons in the upper atmosphere, let’s do it in the grand style. I have been proposing sub-orbital rocket/jet propelled aerospacecraft flight for over thirty years now – not some silly up-and-down thrill ride, but rather point-to-point on the surface of the earth flight to perform a useful function (of sorts). Thankyou Mr. Laine and company for your bold vision. In my opinion you could dump the vertical flights and proceed straight to the more obvious solution to long-distance high speed transport – now, there is a market. But then again, I suppose you do need to find some fools to pay a fortune to cover off your development costs for the technology whilst taking on all the risks of the early flights – snigger – not this cowboy.

    Vancouver to Paris in 20 minutes anyone? And not just for a handful of people – hundreds at a time. Ya, and don’t forget – we want windows too – big ones!

  11. I am 14 yrs old and I’d like to know if theoretically can we achieve speed of light. I have this idea: let say we have a giant wheel in space, 1000 km in diameter, spinning at 100 rpm. If my math is correct we can achieve a speed of 314000 km/s. Does it work in theory?

  12. The initial conditions that your assumed are impossible to reach: you would need more and more energy when the speed gets closer to C, raising to infinite at C.

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