Astrium has taken the wraps off a new concept vehicle for space tourism which could carry four passengers 100km up into space giving more than three minutes of weightlessness.
From now until the end of the year, the company will be finalising the design of the craft and consolidating industrial and financial partnerships in readiness to begin the project next year.
As it is a commercial project, private capital would be the main source of funding. According to Astrium, the total financial cost of around €1bn could be completed by refundable loans and by regional development funding. Return on investment would come from space tourism. The cost per flight per passenger would be around €150,000 to €200,000.
The Astrium space jet would be designed to take off and land conventionally from a standard airport using jet engines. However, once the craft was airborne at an altitude of about 12km, rocket engines would be ignited to give sufficient acceleration to reach 100km. In only 80 seconds the craft would then climb to 60km in altitude. The rocket propulsion system would then be shut down as the ship’s inertia carried it on to over 100km.
The pilot would control the craft using small rocket thrusters enabling passengers to hover weightlessly for three minutes and to witness a spectacular view of Earth.
After slowing down during descent, the jet engines would then be restarted for a normal and safe landing at a standard airfield.
An entire trip is expected to last approximately an hour and a half.
If development does begin in 2008, the first commercial flight could take place by 2012.