Navigation path

Decrease textIncrease textDividerPrint versionRSSDivider

Future High-Altitude High-Speed Transport 20XX

Tags: Air

State of the Art - Background

Worldwide activities are going on to develop suborbital human transportation, allowing a new private industry to emerge. The vast majority of these activities is taking place in the United States of America.

Most feasible and advanced, as well as sufficiently funded, are the activities by Scaled Composites in the USA with Virgin Galactic as airline operator ordering five SS2 (SpaceShipTwo) aircraft, and two WK2 (White Knight 2), as launching carrier aircraft. The hybrid rocket-propelled SS2 concept relies on an all carbon-based design. WK2 is in the process of being commissioned, while the space ship itself will have its first flights next year. SS2 takes six passengers to suborbital altitudes and has two pilots.

In contrast to the air launch concept, XCOR's suborbital two-seated liquid-rocket propelled space vehicle Lynx Mark I starts horizontally from the ground. The version Mark I will climb to altitudes of up to about 60 kilometres, and is planned to have its first suborbital test flights in 2010.

A third potential commercial suborbital flight vehicle is the vertically starting and landing liquid rocket-propelled New Shepherd concept of Blue Origin, based on the previous DC-X Delta Clipper. The anticipated number of passengers is three. The last test flights took place in 2007.

The aim in all these cases is a short vertical ride without large down-range capability. Europe has not really started activities in the field of suborbital transport. Technologically however, European engineers are in the position to develop novel suborbital transportation means as well.

In the USA the governmental authority FAA has helped the emerging private industries by providing licences to build a number of spaceports across the American continent and by alleviating the rules for selling suborbital flights to humans. In this respect, Europe is very behind. Corresponding activities will also result in new safety and liability agreements, and in the definition of enabling insurance rules.


The general objectives of the present project are to:

- evaluate two novel concepts for high-altitude high-speed transportation,

- identify the prerequisites for the commercial operation of high-altitude, high-speed transport, and

- identify critical technologies.

The scientific and technological objectives for the envisaged concepts are:

- Hybrid propulsion;

- Flight experimentation;

- Innovative, high-performance cooling techniques;

- Separation techniques;

- Flow control in supersonic/hypersonic boundary layers;

- Guidance Navigation and Control (GNC) techniques;

- Safety analysis.

Description of Work

The present project pursues technical transport and operational development activities using the air launch of a suborbital space vehicle as a first step towards the development of more challenging longer-distance, point-to-point transportation. The guidelines are suborbital low-energy and high-energy transportation with the concepts ALPHA and SpaceLiner.

The project enables to consider all major technological aspects leading to representative tests as well as technical validation of technologies, tools or know-how required for the realisation of the major vehicle concepts, as well as pro-actively preparing the legal and operational basis for suborbital flight operation:

a. preliminary system design, analysis and performance evaluation for the vehicle concepts ALPHA and SpaceLiner,

b. critical assessment/comparison with developments in ATLLAS and LAPCAT,

c. development/evaluation of hybrid propulsion technologies with consideration of issues of noise and benign propellants,

d. autonomous GNC with health monitoring and adaptation to vehicle performance degradation,

e. novel cooling techniques for wing leading edges, stagnation points and any other locations with very high heat loads,

f. computational and experimental simulation methods for separation phenomena and for the determination of dynamic loads in critical stability regimes,

g. on-ground and national/European/international guidelines for suborbital flight operations

h. aerodynamic/aero-thermodynamic know-how for mastering ascent and safe re-entry of a suborbital flight,

i. novel laminar flow control techniques for hypersonic flow striving for a strong reduction of viscous drag and surface heating while improving aerodynamic efficiency,

j. guidelines for ensuring safety for passengers, on-ground population in view of e.g. human factors, ATM, airline operations, and deficiencies of the aircraft itself, and development of a safety toolbox.

The major challenge for all concepts involving flights with passengers is the safety.

Expected Results

An increase of non-technical and technical/scientific competence in Europe in the field of suborbital commercial transportation, and the satisfaction of society's needs will result from the project.

A network of potential future partners with leading edge expertise for participation in emerging programmes within and outside Europe will also be a result. The project enables a better positioning in emerging markets, through new research and technological activities which would not be possible for a single beneficiary without the EC support. Concrete services and products, in particular of start-up companies, are prepared, developed and established, rendering them ready in time for new markets.

Young engineers and scientists are educated simultaneously by participating in this attractive research and development work.

ALPHA, hybrid propelled vehicle launched at high altitude for short-range flights (here: one of several launch options).
ALPHA, hybrid propelled vehicle launched at high altitude for short-range flights (here: one of several launch options).
SpaceLiner, two-stage all rocket propelled vehicle launched vertically from ground for ultra-fast longrange flights.
SpaceLiner, two-stage all rocket propelled vehicle launched vertically from ground for ultra-fast longrange flights.