Future High-Altitude Flight – An Attractive Commercial Niche?
Objectives of the EC supported study
The objective is to identify and assess the long-term potential of commercial high-altitude flight in Europe for selected mission requirements, in view of the activities in the USA following the successful SpaceShipOne demonstration. Furthermore, it is proposed to identify for Europe missing developments in technology and address safety measures as well as needed steps to satisfy legislation. A corresponding research and development strategy to enable commercial high-altitude flights will be worked out in order to secure the international competitiveness of European industries.
While the common understanding of the European community is that the sub-orbital high-altitude flight is technically feasible within a few years, building on the available knowledge in aviation, it has never been proven experimentally. The USA have achieved with SpaceShipOne (SS1) an air-launched X-vehicle, which, however, will require significant effort before becoming a commercial, routinely used transport vehicle. Such sub-orbital flight is also understood to be on the borderline to space, since the transport of people is approaching the orbital environment without really entering it fully in the sense of having to master the harsh environment of hypersonic re-entry into the atmosphere. According to reports the interest in the USA in high-altitude flying is very large in spite of the high price, suggesting a profitable niche for commercial flight and triggering innovation in small industries to satisfy such demand.
Key objectives are hence to:
- assess worldwide activities and define appropriate mission requirements
- identify potential show stoppers, technical but in particular non-technical ones, and missing elements for carrying out commercial high-altitude flight
- propose a way forward to achieve commercial sub-orbital flight, including potential self-sustained development steps leading to human hypersonic flight, and a funding scenario for a first experimental flight