Airbus Defence and Space

The secrets of the Spaceplane

Will travel in space soon be as easy as flying from London to New York? So it seems. In any case, that is what you’ll be able to do with the Spaceplane – an aircraft that Airbus Defence and Space has devised to allow space travel in optimal conditions.

How can a sort of private jet weighing some 20 tonnes be made to break away from Earth’s gravity? This is the question Airbus Defence and Space’s engineers have pondered, with the help of leading international scientists and specialists. Their technological answer is impressive: take the two usual jet engines, and add a methane/oxygen rocket engine using the technology of the Vulcain (the Ariane 5’s main engine). It’s complex, but feasible.

So let’s imagine what a trip on the Spaceplane would be like. Apart from the absence of cabin crew, the first half-hour feels fairly familiar. Only at an altitude of 12 km do things start to get serious. At this point, the Spaceplane noses up sharply, and the rocket engine takes over from the jet engines. Off it goes, shooting up almost vertically at over 3000 km/hour for 90 seconds. The thrill is guaranteed – and “perfectly tolerable by anyone in good health”, says Robert Lainé, Airbus Defence and Space’s Chief Technical Officer.

At an altitude of 60 km, the rocket engine shuts off, and the Spaceplane continues coasting up to 100 km. Now, get ready for the joys of weightlessness. For five unforgettable minutes, you can move around at your leisure and observe the Earth through the large windows. The engineers have paid particular attention to the aircraft’s onboard habitability. The Spaceplane’s interior has been customised by world-renowned designer Marc Newson to combine comfort and modularity. The seats are attached to a pendular system, allowing the acceleration to be perpendicular to the passengers’ backs. Once in the weightlessness phase, there is plenty of room for each passenger. No need for anyone to elbow their way to be able to gaze out the many windows and snap a few pictures. Nothing has been overlooked in making this trip a truly remarkable experience. The only question is: how to pass the time until the first commercial flights?