Reusable Space Plane Idea Intrigues Europeans
Rob Coppinger, SPACE.com Contributor
Date: 01 May 2012 Time: 04:30 PM ET
|The Vinci suborbital space plane's structure and cryogenic
fuel and oxidizer tanks are depicted in this illustration.
A unique space plane concept has the potential to evolve into a vital space science laboratory for European Space Agency microgravity research at the edge of space, SPACE.com has learned.
The new Vinci space plane is detailed in an ESA report obtained exclusively by SPACE.com. The report, titled "A Cryogenic Sub-orbital Spacecraft," says the plane would be a piloted vehicle with the appearance of a business jet and would be propelled by the Vinci rocket engine currently being developed for the upper stage of the European Ariane 5 rocket.
The spacecraft would be reusable, unlike the rockets currently used by the ESA for suborbital experiments. It would also be designed to carry eight people — six passengers and a two-person crew — into suborbital space and back.
According to its mission description, the Vinci space plane would take off horizontally from a runway to carry scientific payloads into suborbital space. The spacecraft would not reach all the way into orbit for complete trips around the Earth but would achieve an altitude above 62 miles (100 kilometers) and experience several minutes of weightlessness, during which the experiments would be carried out. Using cold gas thrusters to orientate itself for re-entry, the Vinci would then return to its takeoff runway, gliding down to land like a normal aircraft.
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