Anyone who has sat in the back of a 747 for most of day travelling from Australia to the UK would revel at the prospect of doing the same trip in less than two hours.
That was the promise of the new UK spaceport, set to be established in Cornwall and offering both tourist trips into space and 90-minute flights to Australia on craft zooming beyond the atmosphere.
But neither will be happening any time soon.
Although the technology for small numbers of tourists to travel briefly to the edge of space is close, the spacecraft for regular passenger flights to and from Australia is a long way off.
“Maybe one day there will be flights to Sydney in less than two hours but that’s decades away,” said Miles Carden, managing director of Spaceport Cornwall.
“That’s 20 years down the line, maybe. But what we’re interested in out of Newquay is having all the infrastructure and legislation in place to be a safe spaceport that can do horizontal launches.
“That’s what we’re concentrating on. Making the necessary adaptations to our buildings, taxiways and procedures. It’s about all the regulatory aspects of running a spaceport.”
Media reports last week spruiked the prospect of fast intercontinental flights to Australia, without qualifying that this was a long way off.
UK astronaut Major Tim Peake told British media the first spaceport opened a number of possibilities beyond the space tourism proposed by Richard Branson’s Virgin organisation.
“If you extend Virgin Galactic’s principle of sub-orbital flight and improve the vehicles and make them with increasing endurance, you could do London-to-Sydney in an hour-and-a-half on a sub-orbital trajectory,” he said.
Subsequent media reporting promoted that as a prospect much closer than the reality.
Closer is the actual spaceport, for which the UK government has stumped up £20 million.
Unlike other private space ventures, Virgin proposes to conduct horizontal launches, with a mothercraft WhiteKnightTwo carrying its tourist spacecraft called SpaceShipTwo to an altitude of 50,000 feet.
There, SpaceShipTwo fires its rocket motors to carry its six passengers beyond the Karman Line, the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and actual space
“Our partner Virgin Orbit is carrying out tests in the US whereby a rocket is launched from the wings of a Boeing 747 plane. The maximum payload is about 500 kilograms, which could be one satellite or 100 micro ones,” Mr Carden said.
“That’s what we’re looking to do in Cornwall.”
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