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To space, French style

05/06/2007. Contributed by Jessica Martin

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Astrium has unveiled a new vehicle for space tourism at an event in Paris ahead of the Le Bourget Airshow. This business jet sized vehicle is designed to carry four passengers 100 km up into space giving three minutes of zero G. Guests at the Paris event were shown a full sized mock-up of the forward section of the craft.

The Astrium space jet will take off and land conventionally from a standard airport using its jet engines. However, once the craft is airborne at an altitude of about 12 km, the rocket engines will be ignited to give sufficient acceleration to reach 100 km.

In only 80 seconds the craft will have climbed to 60 km altitude. The highly innovative seats balance themselves to minimize the effects of acceleration and deceleration, ensuring the greatest passenger comfort and safety. The rocket propulsion system is then shut down as the ship’s inertia carries it on to over 100 km, where passengers will become one of the very few to experience zero gravity in space.

The pilot will control the craft using small rocket thrusters enabling passengers to hover weightlessly for 3 minutes and to witness the most spectacular view of Earth imaginable. After slowing down during descent, the jet engines are restarted for a normal and safe landing at a standard airfield. The entire trip will last approximately an hour and a half.

Astrium is proposing the one stage system as it is considered the safest and most economical to operate. If development begins in 2008, a first commercial flight would be possible by 2012.

The development of a new vehicle able to operate in altitudes between aircraft (20km) and below satellites (200 km) could well be a precursor for rapid transport ‘point-to-point’ vehicles or quick access to Space - opening up previously unexplored territory.

Its development will contribute to maintaining (and even enhancing) European competences in core technologies of Space Transportation.

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