Airbus Defence and Space Spaceplane

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Mock-up of the vehicle at Paris Air Show 2007

The Airbus Defence and Space Spaceplane, also called EADS Astrium TBN according to some sources,[1] is a suborbital spaceplane concept for carrying space tourists, proposed by EADS Astrium (currently Airbus Defence and Space), the space subsidiary of the European consortium EADS (currently Airbus). A full-size mockup was officially unveiled in Paris, France, on June 13, 2007,[2] and is now on display in the Concorde hall of the Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace.[not verified in body] The project is the first space tourism entry by a major aerospace contractor.

It is a rocket plane with a large wingspan, straight rearwards wing and a pair of canards.[3] Propulsion is ensured by classical turbofan jet engines for the atmospheric phase[4] and a methane-oxygen rocket engine for the space tourism phase. It can carry a pilot and four passengers. The dimensions and looks are somewhat similar to those of a business jet.

As of 2007, EADS Astrium hoped to start development of this rocket plane by 2008, with the objective of a first flight in 2011.[needs update] There was also a possibility that the Tunisian area of Tozeur might be used for the initial flights.[5] Demonstrator test flight regarding conditions encountered in the end-of-flight phase of a return from space occurred on June 5, 2014.[6]

As of 2015, EADS Astrium was waiting for investors.[7]

Origin of the project[edit]

The origin of the project is a proposal by a group of young French, German, British and Spanish engineers from EADS Astrium. It was studied in great secrecy for two years and finally approved by the chairman of EADS Astrium, François Auque. The design is similar in concept to the Rocketplane XP. They looked at the main concepts under development and their studies showed that Rocketplane's jet and rocket combination made the most sense.[8]

In the following months, a core team came up with a detailed concept and assembled the required expertise from different areas of Astrium and other EADS subsidiaries, such as Socata, as well as several external industry partners. Australian designer Marc Newson,[9] who earned his reputation in the field of aviation as Creative Director of Qantas, was also invited to join the project.[10]

Flight profile[edit]

  Turbofan propulsion
  Rocket propulsion
  No propulsion
A: Ignition of rocket engine followed by turbofan shutdown
B: Shutdown of rocket engine. Acceleration 3 g. Start of weightlessness phase.
C: Culmination
D: Beginning of atmospheric deceleration. Max acceleration 4.5 g.
E: Turbofan ignition. Transition to aeronautical mode.

After takeoff the plane reaches an altitude of 12 km. This classical aeronautical phase can last for 45 minutes. The pilot shuts down the jets and starts the methane oxygen rocket engine at the rear of the vehicle. The plane then raises along a vertical trajectory. For 90 seconds of flight with a top speed of Mach 3, the plane is rocketed upwards. The maximum acceleration is 3 g (30 m/s²). At an altitude of 60 km, the rocket engine is shut down and the plane continues to climb up to a maximum altitude of 100 km. This is the weightlessness phase.

Then the plane gets down to 15 km at a high angle of attack, being progressively decelerated by the atmosphere; at this altitude, after transition to aeronautical mode, the jets are reignited to bring the plane back to a classical landing strip.[11]


Interior layout of the vehicle at Paris Air Show 2007

The total mass of the vehicle is 18 metric tons (39,700 lb) at takeoff. The plane has two jet engines, and an oxygen-methane engine with a thrust of 30 tons.[12] The rocket engine uses the technology of the Vulcain (the main engine of Ariane 5), but is reusable thirty times and burns methane instead of hydrogen (hydrogen would require too much tank volume, as the density of methane is 667.2 kg/m³ and the density of hydrogen is 89.9 kg/m³).

The cabin has a diameter of 2.3 m (7 ft 6 in), and provides 3 m³ (10.6 ft³) of cabin space to each passenger. The seats are attached to a pendular system which allows the acceleration to be perpendicular to the back of the passengers. They pivot around the attachment points so that the passengers are aligned rearside to the spacecraft x-axis (body aligned on Gx-axis) during launch acceleration and they are rearside on the negative z-axis during weightlessness and reentry.[13]

The plane is designed for ten years of service at a flight rate of once a week.[12]

Industrial organisation[edit]

The development will be led by EADS Astrium. Its technical responsibility currently[when?] resides with the CTO Robert Lainé.[needs update]

In 2007, development cost of $1 billion was projected by some sources. EADS Astrium plans to raise mostly private money for its project. One of the possible public investors mentioned by François Auque is the southern German state of Bavaria, where the engines are to be produced.[14] Astrium could produce up to 5 planes a year and have a fleet of 20 planes, which would require a production of 20 rocket engines a year. They do not exclude selling models to other entrepreneurs such as Sir Richard Branson from Virgin Galactic.

The final assembly would be in France, while the other industrial facilities of Astrium would provide the rocket engines (Ottobrunn, Germany[4]) or the carbon fiber structures (Spain). Other European industrial partners are associated with the project.

The target of Astrium is to secure 30% of the market of space tourism by 2020, 5000 passengers a year.[15]

The ticket price will be 200,000 euros, including a round trip to the spaceport, training, and luxury accommodation in a theme park/resort.[citation needed]


Burt Rutan, founder of Scaled Composites, a competitor in space tourism to EADS, expressed scepticism towards the EADS Project.[16]

The non-recurring development cost of a suborbital spaceship that has rocket and jet engines — both of which leave the atmosphere and experience reentry — will be far more than our SpaceShipTwo program.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Radio interview of French ESA astronaut Jean-François Clervoy, during the show of Jacques Pradel on Europe 1, June 21, 2007
  2. ^ "Planned Jet to Take Tourists Into Space". Forbes. 2007-06-13. Retrieved 2007-06-14.[dead link]
  3. ^ Astrium dévoile son projet d'avion-fusée Le Figaro, June 14, 2007, Page 18
  4. ^ a b Space jet’s turbofans can cope with vacuum says EADS Rob Coppinger June 21, 2007
  5. ^ "Tunis espère que le site de Tozeur sera retenu pour le lancement du futur avion spatial". 2007-06-13. Archived from the original on 2012-10-25. Retrieved 2007-06-14.
  6. ^ "Airbus tests SpacePlane demonstrator".
  7. ^ Meet Adeline, Airbus’ Answer To SpaceX Reusability. Peter B. de Selding, Space News. 5 June 2015.
  8. ^ Europe's Tourist Rocket, Popular Science Magazine, October 2007, pg 41
  9. ^ The technical challenge of making space travel easy International Herald Tribune, June 17, 2007, By Alice Rawsthorn
  10. ^ Planet AeroSpace Issue 4/2007: EADS Astrium plans space tourism[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ Description of the project Archived 2007-11-28 at the Wayback Machine - Presentation at IAC 2007 Hyderabad by Christophe Chavagnac - Flight profile provided on page 7
  12. ^ a b EADS Astrium se lance dans le tourisme spatial Air & Cosmos, June 15, 2007, n° 2082 - Pages 150-151
  13. ^ EADS reinvents Rocketplane
  14. ^ "European company unveils space plane". CNN. 2007-06-14. Retrieved 2007-06-14.[dead link]
  15. ^ L'entreprise veut associer capitaux publics et privés pour le financement Le Figaro, June 14, 2007, Page 18
  16. ^ "Burt Rutan: Reaction to European Spaceliner". Blog of Leonard David on 2007-06-13. Archived from the original on 2007-05-29. Retrieved 2007-06-15.

External links[edit]