The spacecraft is designed to take off and land up to 50 times. Credit: Mr. Pengxin Han et al. from China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology
The biggest tourism spacecraft in the world may be coming soon. The rocket plane, which will be completing test flights during the next couple of years, could carry up to 20 passengers to the outer rim of our atmosphere, a team from China unveiled to New Scientist.
Designed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, which is based in Beijing, a ride on the winged plane could give tourists the chance to experience weightlessness for nearly five minutes aboard the spaceplane. The team designed the shuttle to be able to be scaled up and down in size, and so far they have blueprints for two versions of the self-powering plane.
The first, according to the report, can fly five people at the edge of space for 2 minutes of weightlessness in its 10-ton body. The bigger design, though, weighs 10 times as much and can go higher and faster, reaching speeds of up to Mach 8. If you’re more accustomed to the razor definition of Mach, that’s about eight times the speed of sound in Earth’s atmosphere or over 6,000 miles per hour. The paper was submitted to the International Astronautical Congress as part of IAC2016, which was held in Guadalajara, Mexico this year.
Credit: Mr. Pengxin Han et al. from China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology
Other companies who have thrown helmets into the private space travel ring have comparatively smaller passenger capabilities. Virgin Galactic’s vehicle, SpaceShipTwo, can carry two pilots and six passengers, and hundreds have already reserved their spot on the ride. Expeditions aboard XCOR’s Lynx series can seat a pilot and a solitary companion, as well as Armadillo Aerospace’s Hyperion vehicle. You can read even more details about various launches in this suborbital industry report from the Federal Aviation Administration.
The price tag isn’t anything to sneeze at, either: Estimates for a ride range upwards of $250,000. (As we learned from astronaut Scott Kelly, you have to keep space sneezes under control so they don’t go blasting into another part of the shuttle.) Previous journeys for private citizens ranged in the millions, like those of private company Space Adventures, Ltd., founded in 1998.