Friday, June 22, 2007

New Player in the Game: European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company- Astrium

Inside of space jet cabin. Source: EADS.net
It seems that Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic are going to have some serious direct competition in the near future. The European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, or EADS for short, has recently announced its plans to enter the suborbital space tourism race [see announcement]. The project leader, Marc Newsome, has said that they would like to begin the project in 2008 and if they are able to do so then a first commercial flight would possibly be available by 2012. Marc Newsome will be in charge of designing the interior cabin which is said to have "highly innovative seats [that will] balance themselves to minimize the effects of acceleration and deceleration, ensuring the greatest passenger comfort and safety." The Australian born designer has been named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. As Creative Director of Qantas Airways, he has also been responsible for the design of their entire fleet including the Airbus A380 and I can say from personal experience that Qantas has, by far, been the best airline with which I have traveled.

Space jet floating in suborbital space. Source: EADS.net
The Flight

The flight will consist of two stages on a space jet comparable to a business jet sized vehicle and will carry four passengers. The space jet will take off from a conventional airport and normal jet engines will carry the craft to an altitude of 12 km when the rocket engines will be ignited. In a mere 80 seconds the rockets will have propelled the space jet all the way up to an altitude of 60 km. The ship will receive enough boost from the rockets to lift it to its peak altitude of 100 km where it will hover weightlessly for 3 minutes and give tourists an incredible view of the Earth. Passengers will get plenty of opportunity to catch a view with the 15 windows, each 30% bigger than a standard jet window. The jet will then make its descent slowly until the jet engines can safely be initiated. The jet will then land at a standard airfield. In total, the entire trip will last between an hour and an hour and a half.

Below is the promotional video of a flight from EADS Astrium:


Financing

Estimated to cost around one billion euros, the project will largely be supported by private capital. Return on investment will from the emerging and very promising suborbital space tourism market. Astrium says that the price per ticket could be anywhere from €150,000 to €200,000. Following five years of operation, EADS Astrium hopes to have claimed 30% of the space tourism market.

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It seems that the private space industry is growing at an ever faster pace. I can only hope that this is just the beginning. My guess is that we will witness several other companies make announcements about entering the great private space race before 2012--especially if Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipOne and Bigewlow Aerospace's space hotels take-off (no pun intended). I do believe we are at the start of an exciting time period here.

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