EADS Sees Potential For Space Plane Market

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It may be easy to be skeptical of dreamers who imagine they can launch a space-tourism industry, but when a hard-headed gigantic company like EADS starts talking about building a production line for rocket planes, that's harder to ignore. "To satisfy the market you will need more planes than you think, because once there is regular operation, the price will decrease, which means there will be more customers," Robert Laine, chief technical officer of Astrium, EADS's aerospace division, told BBC News. Astrium is developing a six-seat rocket plane, Laine said, that will take off from a runway using normal jet engines. At about 40,000 feet a rocket engine will ignite to boost the aircraft to the edge of space.

The space tourism market is providing the impetus to develop the next generation of transportation technology, Laine said. The ships may be the forerunners of super-fast intercontinental passenger transportation. "Today we don't know how to go to space cheaply," he told the BBC. "Being able to climb on a regular basis to 100 km will give us the motivation to develop the plane that goes not just up and down to the same place, but from here to the other side of the Earth." Click here to see an Astrium video of a future space ride.