Skylon: commercial space ‘aircraft’ available in Britain ‘within 10 years’

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Skylon is an unpiloted, reusable spaceplane intended to provide inexpensive and reliable access to space: Skylon: commerical space 'aircraft' available in Britain 'within 10 years' Skylon is an unpiloted, reusable spaceplane intended to provide inexpensive and reliable access to space Photo: REACTION ENGINES

Engineers have developed the new £700 million “Skylon spaceplane”, which can travel at more than five times the speed of sound.

Costing about £6.3 million per flight the 270 foot-long craft can carry up to 24 passengers into space. It could be available for commercial use within a decade.

The unpiloted craft, which can take off from an airport runway, has no external rockets and two engines use hydrogen and oxygen to propel it more than 18 miles into space.

Officials from the UK Space Agency believe it can revolutionise space travel and significantly cut its cost by taking advantage of newly developed technology.

They say it could one day replace Nasa’s Space Shuttle to transport up to 12 tonnes of cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station.

Reports have suggested that developing the craft will eventually cost about £7.5 billion, the same amount it costs to develop an Airbus jet.

The craft has been developed by the Oxfordshire-based Reaction Engines with support from the new space agency.

Richard Varvill, technical director and one of the founders of Reaction Engines, believes his company’s craft will revolutionise space travel.

“Access to space is extraordinarily expensive, yet there’s no law of physics that says it has to be that way,” he told The Engineer magazine.

“We just need to prove it’s viable. The simple truth is that the Earth is part of a much bigger system.

“We’re talking a bit of science fiction now, but in theory there’s nothing that stops you going out (into space).”

He added: “You can imagine a situation when some of our industrially important but polluting processes are done in space and the finished products are brought back down to Earth.”

Officials will meet next week at a special two-day workshop next week, which will investigate how it can be developed commercially.

Reaction Engines said it will take 10 years to develop, leaving Britain to become the first country in the world to launch a spaceplane in orbit.

A commercial spaceplane has remained a near near-impossible dream to some of the best engineers in the world.

The European Space Agency (ESA), the Russian Federal Space Agency (RKA) and Nasa have each poured billions of pounds into such a craft without success.

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