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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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This is cool
By CowKing on 9/19/2010 9:43:07 PM , Rating: 5
to bad I'll be dead by the time we reach Mars

RE: This is cool
By raphd on 9/19/2010 9:47:27 PM , Rating: 2
yeah well, diablo 2 ladder resets on the 28th. Ill be killing the cow king a lot.

RE: This is cool
By FaceMaster on 9/20/2010 7:16:41 AM , Rating: 3
Cool, that's on-topic. Also, it's my birthday in a month, I'm so happy because I'll get presents and might go to the fairground :)

RE: This is cool
By NullSubroutine on 9/20/2010 8:14:28 AM , Rating: 5
I found a dollar once.

RE: This is cool
By bespoke on 9/20/2010 12:49:43 PM , Rating: 4
I can see a tree outside of my window.

RE: This is cool
By Complinitor on 9/20/2010 4:33:24 PM , Rating: 3
Green jellybeans are wonderful. I have a cat. The car is blue and goes zoom-zoom.

RE: This is cool
By Outris on 9/21/2010 11:24:47 AM , Rating: 2
How do you spell colonoscopy...

RE: This is cool
By Dorkyman on 9/24/2010 6:39:26 PM , Rating: 2
You can put a cherry on top of "Espresso Madness" ice cream, but you wouldn't want to eat it.

RE: This is cool
By ARoyalF on 9/25/2010 7:37:28 PM , Rating: 2
I'm disappointed, where's the BS political rhetoric and global warming jibber jabber at? Someone at least blame one of the last 5 U.S. presidents for the sun being hot or something. Sheesh.......

RE: This is cool
By BladeVenom on 9/19/2010 9:52:55 PM , Rating: 4
Which is why more money should be spent on anti-aging research.

Just Wow...
By Redwin on 9/20/2010 9:54:41 AM , Rating: 2
Ok, I'm just a regular engineer, I don't work for NASA or anything, but I read the attached article, and I can't see how the post here is anything except a ridicule of the idea.

From article:
The Skylon will travel at five times the speed of sound using two internal engines that suck hydrogen and oxygen from the atmosphere to send it 18 miles above the ground – and out of Earth’s atmosphere

um.. what? It needs no external hydrogen fuel tanks because it will "suck hydrogen out of the air".. wow, why didn't we think of that before? And it only has to go 18 miles up to leave the atmosphere and only mach 5 to reach orbit?

Sorry, low earth orbit is defined as between 100 - 1200 miles up, and orbital velocities are around mach 25.

The entire article is devoid of details and full of inaccuracies, while the concept discussed is totally unworkable. Honestly, I'm not even sure how this passes the "lol test" at DailyTech.

RE: Just Wow...
By TheSev on 9/20/2010 10:56:46 AM , Rating: 2
Did you even read the whole article? It's a two-phase system. First phase is what you mentioned I believe the first phase carries the plane 18 miles up before phase two initiates.

Second phase uses a supply of liquid hydrogen and small supply of liquid oxygen to rocket the vehicle to mach 25 and into orbit. Dailytech provides some much needed rewording to the article's original statement:
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 .

I agree that this idea seems unlikely (anyone remember HOTOL?), but if you are going to be so critical, make sure you've at least done your homework.

RE: Just Wow...
By geddarkstorm on 9/20/2010 1:20:40 PM , Rating: 2
This is quite different from HOTOL other than being a single state to orbit (SSO) design. Oiy. It's the unique SABRE engine that is the important part, and what is being funded for development and testing in 2011, not the actual plane itself.

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.

I'll believe it when I see it
By kyleb2112 on 9/19/2010 11:30:41 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, I remember conceptual sketches of the Space Shuttle all lean an mean like that without any external tanks. Then it ends up looking like a tick on a water balloon by the time they've got enough reaction mass to make it work. And doesn't the shuttle do something like mach 17?

RE: I'll believe it when I see it
By deputc26 on 9/20/2010 1:10:38 AM , Rating: 2
Mach 25+ (equivalent, there is no mach in space).

RE: I'll believe it when I see it
By Aloonatic on 9/20/2010 3:54:46 AM , Rating: 4
Well, there might not be now, but if this space tourism thing catches on it wont be long 'till someone opens a McDonald's franchise there.

(You see what I did there?! Did ya?!)

Remember, no one hears you groan at a terrible joke in space!

By Fred242 on 9/20/2010 4:17:48 AM , Rating: 3
They are not going to achieve anything by changing the name from Hotol to Skylon. This is just the same old Dan Dare stuff from 1982, lots of wishful thinking and very little engineering fact. The reason the name has changed is presumably to break the link with a discredited idea. Not a good start.

RE: Hotol
By jabber on 9/20/2010 6:07:35 AM , Rating: 3
As a brit...I'll believe it when I see it.

I remember the hype about HOTOL...and then nothing.

I'd rather we invest in a commercial aircraft that could get from London to New York in say three hou.......oh hang on...

Oh the dissapointment.

RE: Hotol
By geddarkstorm on 9/20/2010 1:16:26 PM , Rating: 2
There are serious differences between HOTOL and this. HOTOL for one was to be launched from a rocket sled, while Skylon is all self contained. HOTOL also had devistating stability issues in its design, which Skylon fixes. And then the engines are totally different between the two.

Really, it's the SABRE engines that are the main show, not the rest of the concept. And actually, it's the SABRE research that the UK space agency is funding, for a working engine prototype in 2011. The engine has already been proven technologically possible and to work on the small scale, so a full scale one soon should, if it works out too, finally bring back funding to the Skylon program and get us to the working prototype ship stage in a few years.

Skylon has a lot of promise if the engines work out, the rest is a piece of cake.


Well - we invented the
By KingConker on 9/20/2010 9:08:36 AM , Rating: 2
Camera, Photography, World Wide Web, Computer, Steam Engine, Trains, Railways, Tractors, Jet Engine, Battle Tank, Vaccination, Penicillin, Antiseptic, Anasthetics, Test Tube Babies, Splitting the Atom, Cloning Animals, Television, Telephone, Radar, Hovercraft, Vertical Take Off airplanes, Supersonic Airliners, Slide Rule, Matches,Steam Pump, Piston Engine,Power Loom, Sewing Machine,Gas Lighting,Lathe,Cement,Electromagnet,Blas… Furnace, Electric Generator,Bicycle,Chronometer,Undergroun… Railway,Busses,Ships Propeller, Glider Aircraft,Steel Production,Linoleum,Pneumatic Tyres,Radio, Loudspeaker/hailer, Vacuum Cleaner,Lawnmower,Geiger Counter,Stainless Steel,Decompression Chamber etc...

We let the Americans claim credit & paitent it, the Russians copy it, the Japanese refine it and the Chinese produce it. Sounds like a solid business enteprise! ;)

RE: Well - we invented the
By Suntan on 9/20/2010 10:46:44 AM , Rating: 2
Bitter much?


RE: Well - we invented the
By gregpet on 9/20/2010 1:28:09 PM , Rating: 2
I thought Al Gore invented the web???

RE: Well - we invented the
By Belard on 9/24/2010 10:38:45 AM , Rating: 2
He didn't. He never said he did, its a mis-quote.

By foolsgambit11 on 9/20/2010 2:58:11 PM , Rating: 2
Access to space is extraordinarily expensive, yet there’s no law of physics that says it has to be that way
I suppose that's true. But there is a law of economics that, coupled with the laws of physics, says it will pretty much always be that way. Gravity and friction set a theoretical low-end to the amount of energy required to get something into space. And energy is a commodity that will always be in demand, and therefore expensive. When it comes to budgeting how we use the energy we have, moving ourselves from place to place is likely to become less and less of a priority for more and more people as time goes on. Getting to space could be done cheaper than it is today, but it will probably never become commonplace unless we discover that we were wrong about some fundamental laws of physics (or economics).

RE: Science?
By Belard on 9/24/2010 10:42:08 AM , Rating: 2
Just need to come up with a handy dandy anti-gravity machine... that's all.

And with that, we can go anywhere.

RE: Science?
By Dorkyman on 9/24/2010 6:45:39 PM , Rating: 2
Just as a Prius can use regenerative braking to recapture some of the kinetic energy, wouldn't it be cool to find some way of capturing some of the kinetic/potential energy that a space vehicle burns up when it returns to earth?

Space tourism? Bah. Trans continental instead please.
By gcor on 9/20/2010 6:25:12 AM , Rating: 3
I quite frequently travel from Australia to Europe. At 36 hours door-to-door, it's a hike. Especially with two kids. (I love them, just not quite as much stuck in transit for long periods)

I so wish someone could they make a super quick antipode trip. I read on the hinter-web awhile ago that a scram jet craft would be capable of London to Sydney in 2 hours. And use way less fuel, the biggest cost in long haul flights. Please commercial scram jet travel before space tourism.

I'm a sci-fi head from way back and love the idea of space travel and would pay a fair bit to try it out. But, honestly, the idea of being in a tin can floating around Earth for two weeks sounds horribly boring. Two or three laps around the Earth would be plenty for me! I guess if they provide TONS of in-flight entertainment I'd get through it though.

By HotFoot on 9/20/2010 6:39:09 PM , Rating: 2
I'm afraid the cost of such high-speed intercontinental travel are likely to remain out of the reach of the general public for a long, long time. And without a mass market, the costs get even worse. Most people I know ride economy because it's not worth the extra money for first class - unless you're cashing in rewards miles.

Perhaps what we need, instead of faster-flying vehicles, is something that guarantees comfortable sleep for the duration, with no side effects, and is kids-safe.

By Cronus on 9/20/2010 9:52:51 AM , Rating: 2
Big Problem...

This baby is unmanned and people are scared of being in an aircraft with no physical pilot. I have no problem as I work with UAVs but the general populas is ignorant of the technology and will think wice about riding in an unmanned aircraft let alone one that goes into space.

RE: Unmanned!
By kattanna on 9/20/2010 12:19:13 PM , Rating: 3
agreed. pilots are still needed for take offs and landings, especially with the paying public.

now if they start it off with no pilots doing pure cargo runs to rack up an excellent safety record first, that might help it overcome things.

but paying customers right off the bat with no pilot, dont seeing it being successful.

Attitude Control
By chowmanga on 9/20/2010 4:33:35 PM , Rating: 3
The propulsion and attitude control are provided using computer systems while in orbit.

You know there's a problem when attitudes need computer intervention...

By Zok on 9/19/10, Rating: 0
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.

By Bubbacub on 9/20/2010 8:24:01 AM , Rating: 2
Alan Bond has been working on this in one guise or another for 30 years (see cancelled hotol project).

he has (essentially) no UK governmoent funding. He got a tiny grant from the EU a couple of years ago. the only piece of demonstrable technology that could be made is the pre-cooling system to liquify air prior to going to the rocket engine.

the only non 'pie in the sky' part of skylon is the engine. the rest is all made up bumpf. just read their explanation for the TPS system on the website. they plan on using a layer of foil/ceramic around a milimetre in thickness as their main TPS system! then look at the shape of the plane - it doesn't take a genius to see that it is going to get very hot very quickly as compared to the usual blunt shaped re-entry vehicle.

having said all this the SABRE engine is an incredibly cool idea and is one that could be made to work to get a SSTO reusable spacecraft.

unfortunately nobody is willing to pay for it.

Cool name
By AnotherGuy on 9/20/2010 9:47:17 AM , Rating: 2
Skylon... a heck of a cool gaming nickname... Taken!

"I mean, if you wanna break down someone's door, why don't you start with AT&T, for God sakes? They make your amazing phone unusable as a phone!" -- Jon Stewart on Apple and the iPhone
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