Sunday, August 7, 2016

China to Develop a Hybrid Spaceplane for Cheaper Space Travel

A screenshot showing an artist’s impression of the new vehicle integrating different kinds of engine technologies. Image Credit: Chinadaily.com.cn

With the recent announcement of a long-term program to develop a hybrid spaceplane, China aims to enter space travel market, offering trips into orbit at bargain prices. According to various reports in Chinese media outlets, the country hopes to send common people to space by 2030 at a much lower cost compared to the current price.

"We have made a long-term plan of taking about three to five years to master the key technologies, and significantly improve the capability of the spacecraft during the application. We aim to implement the technology in suborbital flight and orbital insertion by 2030," said Zhang Yong of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).

The state-run China Central Television (CCTV) revealed last week, that the new spacecraft will incorporate different kinds of engine technologies. It will rely on an indigenous turbine, ramjet and rocket engines to power the spaceplane in various phases of the flight. China hopes that it will allow the spaceship to operate as an ordinary plane in the atmosphere and as a rocket during its flight in space.

The spacecraft is planned to be reusable and it will take off and land like an airplane at normal operational airports, what is expected to substantially reduce the cost of space travel. China aims to send this vehicle to up to hundreds of miles above the Earth’s surface.

According to Yang Yang, an engineer at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), future space travelers will not need any special training to board the new spacecraft. This is due to the fact that the slow acceleration whilst taking off, will not cause overloads occurring during rocket launches, thus the initial phase of the flight will be bearable for most people.

China have not yet specified how much its new spaceship will reduce the cost of a spaceflight. Currently, commercial companies like Virgin Galactic, XCOR or Blue Origin are offering tickets for suborbital flights at around $100,000. Orbital journeys to the International Space Station onboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, provided by Space Adventures, are available for about $50 million. For how much China will send future space tourist on orbital flights, remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, China plans to return to human spaceflight this year with the launch of Shenzhou-11 in late 2016. It is a planned crewed mission, slated to lift off from Jiuquan and dock with China’s upcoming second space lab, Tiangong-2, which should be in orbit by the time the crew’s Shenzhou spacecraft is sent aloft. However, the exact launch dates for these missions have yet to be released.

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