EADS Astrium's Spaceplane concept - designed to take four passengers 100km into sub-orbit - is edging closer to reality following the signing up of Singapore as a partner. However, more money is needed for the project to be launched commercially, said Francois Auque, chief executive of the European space specialist.
"The Spaceplane concept is very mature. We are now looking for development money," said Auque, speaking at an EADS media seminar on Saturday.
A consortium of Singapore industry will build a small-scale demonstrator of the Spaceplane - which would compete with the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo in the emerging high-end space tourism market - and would likely be a participant in any programme. Singapore is also interested in hosting sub-orbital flights at Changi airport.
Astrium has been working on the Spaceplane concept since 2006. The aircraft will take off and land conventionally from a standard airport runway using its jet engines. At an altitude of about 12km, a rocket engine ignites, taking the vehicle to 60km. The propulsion system is then shut down and the Spaceplane's inertia takes it to over 100km, allowing passengers to hover weightlessly for several minutes. The entire trip takes 2h.
Astrium - which has a portfolio ranging from Ariane rocket launchers to satellites and communication and imaging equipment - is aiming to streamline its business to cut €400 million ($572 million) of costs and become more responsive as private customers increasingly take the place of its traditional government clients.
"We want to kill bureaucracy as much as possible, to foster innovation and empower people. Decisions need to be taken two steps below where they currently are. We want to become a federation of SMEs."