The Future Gets a Little Closer

The British government has announced it will invest 60 million pounds to support the development of a “spaceplane”. This will be a spacecraft that can take off and land at an airport, just like a jet plane. But it will have the ability to escape the earth’s atmosphere, delivering passengers and 16 tons of cargo to space stations orbiting earth.

As planned, the spaceplane won’t need to carry lots of heavy fuel when it takes off, like today’s rockets have to do. It will use an extremely efficient engine that allows it to reach Mach-5 (five times the speed of sound) using oxygen from the earth’s atmosphere, and then use a small amount of on-board oxygen to reach Mach-22 in space. The technology has been proven in the lab. Now an actual spaceplane needs to be built and tested.

The article below suggests that the spaceplane technology might eventually be used to make regular air travel faster, allowing tourists, for example, to fly from England to Australia at an average speed of 2,500 miles per hour (i.e. fly 10,000 miles in just 4 hours). That would be 300 miles per hour faster than the fastest military aircraft, the SR-71 Blackbird, has ever flown (according to public records).

A futuristic passenger plane would have to accelerate and decelerate rather slowly, however. Otherwise your Aunt Sally and Uncle Bob would experience a g-force like an astronaut does.

It doesn’t exist yet (and isn’t expected to start flying until 2019), but it still looks really cool: