Flying Through Space

I am going to be spending the weekend at Eastercon, an annual science fiction and fantasy extravaganza. If you are attending, please come and say hello! I’ll be speaking on the panel on Social Media in Science Fiction on Monday afternoon.

So I’m not around for a new post today. In keeping with the Eastercon theme, I’ve put together this collection of aircraft from the future for you to enjoy.


Ascender is a small sub-orbital spaceplane designed to use existing technology and to pave the way for later vehicles on our development sequence. Ascender is specifically designed to generate spaceplane revenues at minimum development cost and risk, and thereby to be attractive to private-sector investment. Ascender carries one pilot and one passenger or experiment. The passenger remains strapped in his/her seat during the flight. Ascender takes off from an ordinary airfield using its turbo-fan engine and climbs at subsonic speed to a height of 8 km. The pilot then starts the rocket engine and pulls up into a steep climb. Ascender has a maximum speed of around Mach 3 on a steep climb and can reach a height of 100 km.

Find out more: Bristol Spaceplanes – Ascender


Astrium’s business jet-sized spaceplane will take off and land conventionally from a standard airport runway using its jet engines. At an altitude of about 12 km, the rocket engine are ignited and in only 80 seconds the craft climbs to 60 km altitude. The rocket propulsion system is then shut down as the plane’s inertia carries it on to over 100 km, enabling passengers to hover weightlessly for some minutes and to witness the most spectacular view of Earth imaginable. After slowing down during descent, the jet engines are restarted for a normal landing at the airfield. The entire trip will last approximately two hours.

Find out more: The Spaceplane: rocketing into the future – Folders | Astrium


This two-seat, piloted space transport vehicle will take humans and payloads on a half-hour suborbital flight to 100 km (330,000 feet) and then return safely to a landing at the takeoff runway.

Like an aircraft, Lynx is a horizontal takeoff and horizontal landing vehicle, but instead of a jet or piston engine, Lynx uses its own fully reusable rocket propulsion system to depart a runway and return safely. This approach is unique compared to most other RLVs in development, such as conventional vertical rocket launches and air-launched winged rocket vehicles “dropped” at altitude from a jet powered mothership.

Find out more: XCOR Lynx Suborbital Spacecraft / spaceplane

White Knight

The White Knight is a manned, twin-turbojet research aircraft intended for high-altitude missions. First flight was in August 2002. Design mission – provides a high-altitude airborne launch of SpaceShipOne, a manned sub-orbital spacecraft. The White Knight is equipped to flight-qualify all the spacecraft systems, except rocket propulsion. The White Knight’s cockpit, avionics, ECS, pneumatics, trim servos, data system, and electrical system components are identical to those installed on SpaceShipOne. The White Knight’s high thrust-to-weight ratio and enormous speed brakes allow the astronauts in training to practice space flight maneuvers such as boost, approach, and landing with a very realistic environment. Thus, the aircraft serves as a high-fidelity moving-base simulator for SpaceShipOne pilot training.

Find out more: Scaled Composites: SpaceShipOne & White Knight


SKYLON is an unpiloted, reusable spaceplane intended to provide inexpensive and reliable access to space. Currently in proof-of-concept phase, the vehicle will take approximately 10 years to develop and will be capable of transporting 12 tonnes of cargo into space.

Though the SKYLON has primarily been designed to launch satellites, consideration has been given to its passenger carrying capabilities. SKYLON is basically a hypersonic aircraft with hybrid engines, changing their mode of operation as the vehicle leaves the atmosphere. On return, because it is an aircraft, it has a cross range capability and ends its flights by landing conventionally on a runway.

Find out more: Reaction Engines Ltd : Current Projects : SKYLON


A unique capability to explore the atmosphere, surface and interior of Mars. During its flight, the ARES rocket-propelled airplane will fly over 500 km of geologically diverse terrain, obtaining previously unobtainable measurements of Mars’ remnant magnetic fields, atmosphere boundary layer and near-surface water.

Find out more: ARES – A Proposed Mars Scout Mission

And not so forward-thinking (nor even really “flying”) but amazingly cool nevertheless: an 800-pound, 45-foot long paper airplane.

It’s not every day that a giant paper airplane is released high over the Arizona desert. In fact, it’s never been done. But that’s exactly what the Pima Air & Space Museum did on March 21, 2012. The video shows the complete flight (including crash landing!).

I’ll be back next week with my feet more firmly on the ground.

Category: Fun Stuff,

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