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Researchers working on aircraft that would send tourists out into space faster than the speed of sound.

The ultimate adventure ride could be coming soon to an airport near you.  It's called "Skylon" and the special aircraft is being developed for commercial use to carry tourists out into space within the next ten years. 

Skylon would take off from a standard airport runway and travel at more than five times the speed of sound, according to the
 Telegraph and Daily Mail. The revolutionary aircraft was developed by Reaction Engines, with support from the new UK space agency. 

The 270 foot-long spaceplane is unpiloted, has no external rockets, and has two engines that use hydrogen and oxygen to propel it more than 18 miles out of the Earth's atmosphere.  

The propulsion and attitude control are provided using computer systems while in orbit.  The engine uses the propulsion to reach the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere before switching to rocket power.

The aircraft – which can can remain operational in orbit for up to seven days – would take off from an airport, fly out into orbit, and then land on the runway. The craft is expected to carry up to 24 passengers into space at a time, revolutionize space travel, and cut costs. 

The reusable spaceplane is intended to provide inexpensive and reliable access to space within a decade.  

"Access to space is extraordinarily expensive, yet there’s no law of physics that says it has to be that way," said Technical Director and one of the founders of Reaction Engines, Richard Varvill. "We just need to prove it’s viable. The simple truth is that the Earth is part of a much bigger system."

In the future, Skylon could be used in place of NASA's Space Shuttle to transport astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station.

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By Zok on 9/19/2010 11:35:18 PM , Rating: 0
And how do they propose making re-entry safer/cheaper/more reusable? That would seem to be a more revolutionary advancement.

Considering this takes off from a "normal" runway, I'd certainly hope they've cooked up something special - especially since the UK's (and France's) last foray into commercial supersonic travel was ended by a strip of metal on a runway that resulted in the bringing down the Concorde.

RE: Re-entry
By JediJeb on 9/20/2010 6:47:18 PM , Rating: 2
If you can carry enough fuel then re-entry can be done safely without the worry of heat shields. If you have enough baking thrust to slow the craft to a speed of something like Mach 5 before entering the atmosphere then the friction shouldn't be too unmanageable. Most things like the shuttle just didn't have enough fuel on board to do that, and with the heat shields atmospheric braking is more economical, just more risky if you don't get it right.

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