Monday, March 17, 2008

EADS Releases Space Plane Project Details

The Chief Technical Officer of EADS, Robert Laine, was recently interviewed by the BBC concerning EADS Astrium's space tourism plans, and he actually went into quite a bit of detail about how the project is going to work.

EADS is a large European aerospace company that resulted from the 2000 merging of DaimlerChrysler Aerospace AG of Germany, Aerospatiale Matra of France, and CASA of Spain. They are responsible for creating everything from Airbus aircraft to military helicopters. The EADS Astrium division was created to encompass the space portion of EADS' Aerospace goals, and today, they have 12,000 employees in five European countries.

EADS Astrium is split into three principal roles. Astrium Services sells services that require complex or multiple-satelite setups, such as communications or navigation. Astrium Satellites designs and manufactures satellites, and Astrium Space Transportation supports manned space activities, and researches and develops space vehicles. Astrium Space Transportation has been responsible for such systems as the Columbus module, currently part of the International Space Station, and the European Space Agency's automated transfer vehicle, now in a parking orbit near the International Space Station, waiting for the space shuttle to leave so that it can dock.

Astrium Space Transportation is now in development of a space plane, intended to be used for tourism purposes. In his interview with the BBC, Robert Laine provided several new details concerning the program.

The expected cost of a trip on one of these space planes is €200,000. Astrium's studies of the potential space tourism market suggest that as many as 15,000 people would be willing to shell out this kind of cash every year for a ride on one of its planes. To facilitate that, Astrium plans to manufacture 10 space planes per year once they are in full production. Also, it was revealed that Astrium has no intention to provide the tourist flights itself; it will just sell the planes to others who will.

The plane will operate by using conventional jet engines to fly 12 km into the atmosphere, where it will ignite its rocket. The plane's liquid oxygen-methane rocket engine has been successfully tested for thirty-one seconds at a stretch, and the form of the plane itself has successfully passed initial wind tunnel tests. The plane will be able to carry five people into space (four tourists and one pilot), and the trip will take about an hour and a half.

And here are some pictures! The The first is credited to EADS, and the second to Marc Newson, the designer of the interior. Enjoy!

Progress: 3.89%  Flight Time: 0:05:50

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