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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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RE: Just Wow...
By HotFoot on 9/20/2010 6:32:42 PM , Rating: 2
The article still isn't very clear - it's even confusing.

- Why mention that the vehicle goes "over Mach 5", when it needs to go 5x that fast to achieve orbit? Does it go over Mach 5 on air-breathing engines?

- What exactly is "18 miles out of the Earth's atmosphere"? It obviously isn't talking about an altitude of 18 miles.

If I ignore the discussion about staying in orbit for up to seven days, what this seems to me is a sub-orbital vehicle that uses air-breathing engines up to an altitude of 18 miles (about 100,000 feet) and Mach 5+, and then switches to rockets, which carry it to some other altitude. 100,000 feet and Mach 5 makes sense as the point at which to switch from air-breathing to rocket engines. Nothing else about this article, or even this project as whole, makes sense.

RE: Just Wow...
By PrinceGaz on 9/20/2010 7:56:36 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, after reading the DT article, I'm confused as to what this space-plane is intended for.

A sub-orbital high speed transport for journeys like London to Tokyo, Sydney to New York, or the like which currently take around twelve hours or so, being cut to a fraction of the time seems viable, though not with a craft which can only carry 24 passengers as that will make the cost prohibitive.

Then there's the very premium space journey market, but that requires orbital flight, or something close to it which provides weightlessness for at least an hour or two, and I'm not convinced this craft provides that.

This seems like another project which looks good on paper, but is probably best left on paper in practice, as a paper-aeroplane will lose less money than attempting to turn it into a real craft.

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