Air launching two six-person suborbital vehicles from the back of a specially modified Airbus A380 Freighter is possible, according to a mid-term review of a European Union (EU) study held on 25 April.

This A380 launch technique was a recommendation of the air deployment working group of the EU Sixth Framework Programme’s space tourism related Future High-Altitude Flight - an Attractive Commercial Niche? (FLACON) project.

The A380 could accomodate two suborbital tourism vehicles, carrying four passengers and two pilots each. It would launch the spacecraft in serial from a rear door.

FLACON’s air launch work package’s leader, German Aerospace Center's Institute of Aerodynamics and Flow Technology head of spacecraft Jose Longo said, "the adaption of the A380 Freighter would be the best option. The A380 could launch two [suborbital vehicles]. There are no [technology] showstoppers."

FLACON has examined existing aircraft for the role of the spacecraft carrier. Longo added that European industry had the technology to make the A380 air launch system possible and that the new widebody had enough room for the tourists to board the carried spacecraft during the flight to the launch point.

He also oversaw the project's medical work package. It analysed the acceleration that a typical tourist, expected to be aged over 50 at least, could very safely tolerate.

That work package, which has been finished, concluded that experiencing 4g for 30s during the flight must be the limit. The flight trajectory of a European suborbital vehicle is likely to be designed using those criteria.

The project will end in October. It is also expected to recommend that the EU ask the European Aviation Safety Agency to draw up commercial human spaceflight rules, following the example of the US Federal Aviation Administration.

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