Space photo

Move over, Sir Richard Branson. Someone else wants to play in your space sandbox. Thanks to a not-exactly-generous US$9.68 million injection from the EU, a new program is poised to offer competition to existing space-tourism services offered by Virgin Galactic, Xcor Aerospace, and Blue Origin. The funding will go toward the design, development and experimental validation of hybrid propulsion engines for the Future High-Altitude High-Speed Transport (FAST) 20XX program, which includes two separate “vomit comet” concepts. The first launch is scheduled within a decade.

Vomit comet #1 is projected for service in 2015 and will give astronaut wannabes a similar ride to Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital journey. That bird will piggyback on a specially designed jet carrier aircraft to 50,000 ft., detach, blast off at three times the speed of sound, let you experience a few minutes of weightlessness, then land you safely back home where a really, really, really big credit card bill will be waiting.

Vomit comet #2 is where things start to get a little more interesting…and long term. The 2075-ish SpaceLiner concept is designed for hypersonic point-to-point transport. In other words, your 23-hour flight from Berlin to Sydney will be cut down to 90 minutes. This 50-seat craft has you sitting on the launch pad in a nose-to-the-sky space-shuttle orientation, piggybacking on a winged droptank craft burning liquid hydrogen and oxygen. Emptied during boost phase, the droptank would either glide back to earth on its own or be captured mid-glide by a specially outfitted 747 and towed back for a runway landing. As far as SpaceLiner’s reentry, the plan is for “skip” breaking as opposed to the more purgatory-esque version used by the space shuttle.

And for you Nervous Nellies out there, you’ll be glad to know the designers have considered your safety with a “detachable passenger cabin in case of losing structural integrity.” Hopefully Sir Richard was this thorough with his plans.