It is always unsettling to write about the ‘shape of things to come’, that will come, but long after you have gone.
So it may be for many readers, as the EADS Astrium Spaceliner is relaunched as a concept for at least the third time in 13 months, or if you wish, twice in the last 24 hours, as the lights are about to go on at the Paris Air Show.
Not to be confused with the British Aerospace HOTOL dreaming of the mid 1980s, or the US X-30 project of the same decade, this is the zero emissions ( I think they meant zero fossil sourced carbon emissions) hypersonic transport project by the company that owns Airbus that was reported in detail with an intriguing diagram, by Robert Wall in Aviation Week and Space Technology back on May 28, last year.
In the last day it has been a dead heat for the warmed up Paris Air Show version between Le Parisien and the original front runner Aviation Week in its Things with Wings blog. The former, in French, has an image the latter hasn’t, but as always, Aviation Week is on top of the crucial matters, describing how the Spaceliner will get to mach 0.8 with conventional engines, use rocket boosters to mach 2.5, (somewhat faster than the TU-144 and much faster than the Concorde) and then fire up slush hydrogen fuelled scramjets to fly above most of the atmosphere at velocities of more than mach 4, meaning I think in terms of ground speeds.
The Aviation Week story carries the following graphic credited to EADS, who may not be thrilled to have their eye-catcher unveiled before the press conference. Tough.
Between the two Aviation Week stories the strange rotatable arrow head shaped surfaces at the wing tips have vanished. But the journey times remain quoted at two hours 15 minute for Los Angeles-Tokyo, which implies that for just an extra few minutes we’d get Sydney-Los Angeles, meaning the entire trip would be shorter than the process of humiliation and paranoia involved in escaping from the airport after arrival on a typical day can be in these times.
Also, EADS Astrium (its space division) is now being quoted as saying the first commercial flights could be as soon as 2040, rather than the 2050 quoted a year ago. (Whew, I was worried for a moment.)
There are two other, well, three other really good things about the Spaceliner project.
It has windows. It flies sufficiently high not to generate a sonic boom (apart from the tricky boost phase to mach 2.5), and, it will happen, maybe even in a form similar to this.
The age of mass space transportation or hypersonic flight is coming. The forerunners are the likes of the sub orbital thrill rides being developed by Virgin Galactic. And that is to the space transportation age what joy flights were to the beginning of commercial aviation a century ago.
We do not really know when or how this will happen. We can but glimpse that future, shimmering in the distance, and dancing on the horizon, yet if we are wise and innovative, that is a place and those are the flights that only our children will reach and take.