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Space plane taking shape

By Zhao Lei | China Daily | Updated: 2016-09-21 08:08

New concept opens range of possibilities for high-speed commercial travel, tourism

Chinese space engineers will join hands to develop a next-generation craft with enormous business potential for commercial launches and space tourism, according to an industry conference.

As competition in the international aerospace field becomes increasingly fierce, Chinese space engineers have reached a consensus that the new craft is of great importance to China's aviation and space sectors, a statement released after the First China Combined-Cycle Aerospace Vehicle Development Forum in Beijing said on Tuesday.

The cutting-edge craft will have many opportunities in the government-backed space and business sectors, so Chinese researchers have decided to work together to develop the technology, it said.

More than 300 officials, business leaders and experts took part in the event hosted by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology.

A combined-cycle aerospace vehicle is propelled by a combination of turbine, ramjet and rocket engines, space experts said.

The craft uses turbine engines, like those installed on jetliners, or rocket-based combined-cycle engines, when it takes off from a conventional runway.

After it reaches a certain speed, the ramjet will be activated to thrust the spacecraft into the stratosphere or to the next layer of the Earth's atmosphere, the mesosphere. At this point, rocket engines will be used to put the vehicle into orbit.

Engineers at the China Institute of Combined-Cycle Aerospace Vehicle Technology have started preliminary research on a reusable, combined-cycle space plane. Currently, they are working on key technologies for such craft, according to the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, which administers the institute.

A senior researcher at the institute, who wished to be identified only as Liu, said that the United States and Britain have studied combined-cycle propulsion for a long time and are working toward reusable space planes for commercial payload launches as well as space tourism.

"This kind of craft has several advantages - it has a low operational cost and high reliability, can conduct takeoffs and landings using a conventional airport and is suitable for performing scheduled flights as a passenger space plane," he said.

"The rapid growth in commercial satellite launch services and space tourism offers a promising market for the combined-cycle space plane," Liu said.

"Moreover, it can realize the aspiration of ultrafast air travel. Passengers will be able to get to anyplace on the globe within only several hours in the future."

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