EADS Announces Space Jet

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Of course, who needs an SSBJ when you can just buy a combination airplane and space ship, escape the atmosphere, go as fast as you want -- within the physical laws of orbital mechanics, of course -- and then land on a runway like nothing else happened. That's the operational plan behind the new Astrium "space jet" [YouTube video] EADS announced last week and is showing off this week at the Paris Air Show. Designed to compete in the not-quite-ready-for-takeoff space tourism market, the new craft will take off and climb to altitude like an airplane using its twin jet engines. Once at a suitable altitude, the space jet would then use a rocket engine to boost itself to around 62 miles above Earth, placing up to four paying passengers into weightless flight at the edge of space. While there, it will use thrusters for attitude control, then begin a descent, eventually landing on a conventional runway. EADS' Astrium subsidiary figures the package would cost passengers at least $200,000; cost for the craft itself is pegged at around a billion euros. The company has a full-scale mock-up on display this week in Paris, including a cabin designed by Australian-born Marc Newson. The Astrium technology differs substantially from other designs meeting the same objectives in that it doesn't require a "mother ship," which may make the Astrium proposal more economical. It appears the company has not yet committed to development yet, however; so far, officials are only saying if development begins next year, a test flight could occur in 2011, with the first commercial flight in 2012. The exact timetable will depend on the industrial and financial partnerships necessary to bring the project to fruition. Since Astrium is a prime contractor for Europe's Ariane 5 launch vehicles, a central European partner on the International Space Station and a wholly owned subsidiary of EADS, the company would seem to have the resources to pull this off.