It’s the other side of the world and takes a full day in the air to reach at the moment. But, a hypersonic SpaceLiner which is capable of reaching 24 times the speed of sound could be with us by the year 2050.
While any completed invention is a very long way off, Martin Sippel, who is project coordinator at the German Aerospace Center believes the project could start moving forward with a private funding investment within the next decade.
At the concept stage, SpaceLiner would involve a rocket booster for launch before up to 50 passengers are sent into orbit halfway around the world without actually making it into space.
Clearly, such a journey will be reserved at first for those who have a lot of cash to spare as prices are estimated to be in the region of several hundred thousand dollars per ticket.
But Sippel believes there are plenty of people willing to pay such a premium and that a fleet of SpaceLiners could eventually make up to 15 flights every day.
“Maybe we can best characterise the SpaceLiner by saying it’s a kind of second-generation space shuttle, but with a completely different task,” he said.
SpaceLiner would take around eight minutes to get to the earth’s upper atmosphere where it would continue its journey before heading back to Earth at speeds of more than 15,000mph.
The empty rocket stage would return to Earth after helping SpaceLiner to launch so it could then be reused.
SpaceLiner wouldn’t be able to take off from Heathrow or Gatwick though. It is expected to need an isolated launch site, and a carefully mapped out route, to prevent sonic booms from impacting on built-up areas.
Rocket fuel would be used to power the craft, leaving a trail of waste water vapour. While extreme temperatures could be a potential risk, engineers believe that advances in materials, cooling technologies and head shielding will guard against any such problems.
The shape of SpaceLiner would also be a vital part of preventing the machine from overheating. Its final design could be influenced by an upcoming European Commission-funded study, known as FAST20XX, which is looking into whether air travel can get faster
A spokesman for that project said: “Will we be able to fly faster during the 21st century than we could by the end of the 20th? The Future High-Altitude High Speed Transport 20XX project aims to establish sound technological foundations for the introduction of advanced concepts in suborbital high-speed transportation.”
The study is looking at two main concepts. The first is a vehicle that air launches from a carrier plane before igniting a hybrid rocket motor to climb out of the atmosphere before gliding back to Earth. The second is a reusable two-stage concept to transport around 50 people across long distances in an extremely short time, taking off vertically and landing horizontally.
Such an invention would revolutionise the concept of distance. You’d be able to get to Sydney from London in a faster time than it can take to board the tube from one side of the city to the other. It could change the way we do business, where we holiday and how we live.