Airbus tests SpacePlane demonstrator

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Airbus is closer to taking space tourists on suborbital flights following tests of a demonstrator aircraft in the South China Sea.

According to Airbus Defence and Space, tests of the SpacePlane demonstrator validated the dynamic flight conditions encountered in the end-of-flight phase following a return from space.

The tests, conducted between 1-4 May and supported by the Singapore Economic Development Board, took place 100km off the coast of Singapore and involved a fleet of seven ships.

The quarter-scale demonstrator used in the tests was built in partnership with HOPE Technik and Airbus Group Innovations, the corporate network of research centres of Airbus Group.

After being winched from the barge by an AS350 B3e Ecureuil helicopter operated by Airbus Helicopters Southeast Asia, the SpacePlane demonstrator was released at a height of around 3,000m.

It was then piloted from the barge as it made its return to the ground, ending its flight at sea before being picked up a few hours later.

Conceived in 2006, the business jet-sized spaceplane will carry four passengers up to an altitude of 100km into space, or help to fulfil a range of scientific or operational suborbital missions.

In use, it 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, taking the aircraft to an altitude of 60km in 80 seconds.

Airbus says the rocket propulsion system is then shut down as the plane’s inertia carries it to over 100km, enabling passengers hover weightlessly. After slowing down during descent, the jet engines are restarted for a normal landing at an airfield.

Commercial space exploration technology could enable low-cost access to space for both tourists and scientists. Click here to read more.