Spacecoaster concept would offer easy access to experiences of spaceflight for fraction of the usual cost

EADS has unveiled a low-cost space tourism proposal that would give 12 passengers a high-altitude supersonic ride on top of a Mikoyan MiG-31 Foxhound fighter.

Dr Werner Inden, EADS space transportation director, new programmes, says the Spacecoaster would offer easy access to the experience of spaceflight for a fraction of the usual cost. "Frequent conventional space tourism is at best 20-30 years away. We're proposing something less risky and more accessible to the public," he says.

EADS envisages a 13m (43ft)- long cigar-shaped pressurised capsule, with room for 12 passengers and one crew member, on top of the MiG-31's fuselage, aft of the cockpit. Attached using a tripod arrangement, the capsule would have small control surfaces and an aft-mounted parachute to guide it to the ground independently, should the need to separate arise.

Inden says the large 180û acrylic windows would afford passengers views of the blackness of space and the curvature of the Earth, while a parabolic flight profile would allow a short period of weightlessness. Passengers would wear spacesuits to protect against any pressurisation failure. A seat would cost around €15,000 ($16,900).

"We chose the MiG-31 because it is the largest interceptor available. Even with the 2,500kg [1,140lb] capsule, it will be able to reach 25,000m and Mach 2.5," he says. The aircraft would be demilitarised and fitted with additional avionics required for Western certification, but the concept's aerodynamics have been assessed," Inden adds.

As well as parabolic "event" flights from air shows and other bases, Inden says the aircraft could also be used for transit flights. "With a long subsonic portion over land and a short supersonic parabolic manoeuvre, the total range would be about 1,500km [810nm] - enough to get from southern Germany to the Mediterranean," he says. EADS has discussed the project with the German certification authorities and says the defence ministry would allow its military airfields to be used for operations.

EADS will not help fund the project. "We will not invest further - that is for others," says Inden. The three-year development programme would cost about €50-100 million. "Iwould say the project has a 50% chance of going ahead", he adds.

Source: Flight International