A €110,000 ($145,000) feasibility study into a European version of Virgin Galactic's Scaled Composites SpaceShipTwo (SS2) suborbital tourism vehicle is under way, funded by the European Commission.
The 12-month project will examine the technological, legal and insurance-related issues in creating in Europe an air-launched, rocket-powered suborbital glider able to carry passengers. German and French aerospace agencies DLR and ONERA, EADS Bremen and Dassault are involved.
"The carrier aircraft would be an Airbus," says project co-ordinator Wilhelm Kordulla, a European Space Agency manager. "We are also looking at how to have a sustained down-range capability and to make the experience more comfortable," he says. SS2's flight profile will see passengers briefly experience 7g.
Kordulla says the study could produce a cost estimate for a prototype, but industry has already told ESA it could not develop the vehicle alone. Another outcome could be an evaluation of whether a standalone Skunk Works-like operation would be the best European development organisation instead of traditional industry.
The European Seventh Framework research programme may help ESA to fund follow-on work.