A journey into space is already possible, and soon to become relatively accessible (link to “Space travel for all”). But Airbus Defence and Space has built its Spaceplane with an eye not only to developing space tourism. Indeed, the aircraft offers possibilities far beyond simple outings into space, and its designers have already imagined other missions and prospects for the future.
For example, in order to study fluid mechanics, biology, human physiology, combustion or fundamental physics, researchers often need to recreate conditions of weightlessness. Various solutions have been explored: since 1988, CNES has conducted scientific experiments during weightlessness onboard the Airbus A300-0G (zero gravity) using parabolic flights. After an initial normal flight phase, the pilot brings up the nose until the aircraft is climbing at a 45° angle, then reduces the power to the engines. The aircraft goes into a parabolic trajectory during which the passengers are in free-fall, in real conditions of weightlessness.
The main drawback is that the weightlessness phase lasts only 20 seconds and must be repeated many times for several minutes of experimentation. The Spaceplane, which follows a parabola with a peak at 100 km, will provide scientists with weightlessness phases lasting three to five whole minutes.
Another goal involves putting small satellites into orbit. Today, only large launchers can send satellites, be they for scientific, military or commercial applications, into space. Small satellites can only be launched along with large satellites, or in a group of several assembled together on a launcher, which complicates their mission. The Spaceplane could be specially configured to launch a small satellite. Contrary to current launchers, the Spaceplane is reusable, making it a more environmentally-friendly launch solution, while also ensuring increased operating flexibility and low cost. It represents a real opportunity for further expanding the world’s satellite network.
Finally, the Airbus Defence and Space aircraft is a window on the future of transportation. Imagine, in coming years, being able to reach the other side of the world in a matter of hours. This too will one day be a benefit derived from the Spaceplane. It is a first step toward making a resident of Tokyo your close neighbour, or a business meeting in New York a matter of just a few hours before you are back home with your family.