EADS Astrium’s plans to move into the space tourism market, revealed last week to a VIP audience and represented here by a full-scale mockup of a hybrid spaceplane’s forward fuselage and its business-jet-like cabin, depend on raising money from the private sector.
Rides, including three minutes of weightlessness at an altitude of 330,000 feet, are likely to cost upward of $200,0000. And if only the rich will be able to enjoy the experience, they will also have to come up with the estimated $1.35 billion it will cost to develop, Astrium CEO François Auque said Friday.
“The idea is that in 2020 around 15,000 people a year will enjoy going to the limit of the atmosphere–and hopefully coming back,” Auque said. The only route to space for nonastronauts today, a ride on the Russian Soyuz to the international space station, costs $25 million and involves “six months of horrible training,” he said. The Astrium alternative would require just one week of preparation.
The spaceplane would take off and climb to 39,000 feet using business jet turbofan engines, then fire its liquid-fueled rocket, climbing to 200,000 feet in just 80 seconds and leaving the atmosphere on a ballistic trajectory. The pilot would be able to control the craft using small rocket thrusters before descending into the atmosphere and reigniting the turbofan engines for landing. “It is technically possible,” Auque insisted. “We have been working secretly for two years on the concept and we believe there could be a market.”
Qantas Airways creative director Mark Newson designed the cabin. It features innovative seats that would balance themselves to minimize the effects of acceleration and deceleration.
Development would take four years, but will be delayed if there is no commercial investment, Auque said: “I have no doubt space will become more commercial and this project will be the model for it. If we don’t find private money, we won’t do it, but if we do, it will make space technology that public money won’t sustain.”
The project would contribute to Astrium’s technology in various areas, including atmospheric reentry, manned flight, composite structures and liquid oxygen-methane rocket engines. Auque envisages annual production of up to five vehicles and 20 rocket engines.
“We are not working just for the rich and beautiful,” he inisted “The objective is to use the money of the rich to do space for everybody. Tickets on the first flight from Berlin to London cost four years’ wages, but now aviation is affordable.”