Sir - Regardless of what happened to the Interim Hotol (Letters, Flight International, 9-15 July, P52), such a system would never produce the cheap access to space for which Nick Francis of Matra Marconi Space asks ("Speaking frankly", Flight International, 21-27 May, P36).

Studies conducted by Reaction Engines, recently confirmed independently by Aerospace Corporation in the USA, show that only a fleet of 30-40 commercially operated "spaceplanes", such as the Skylon, would break present cost barriers. Any fleet of the size of the present Shuttle, or Venture Star, would not change the present trend and lead to a gradual closing of the window for space access which took so long to open.

A commercial contractor should be put in charge of developing such a fleet. In fact, this is tacitly assumed, since launchers are part of the Marrakesh procedure of 1994, which excludes only military, non-industrial, research and civil aircraft with more than 100 seats.

Cheap access to space is possible without exotic materials and scramjets via a systems-engineering approach. What governments must start doing now is to begin licensing and certification of such commercial spaceplanes.

This is not as far-fetched as the view of those who assume that space has reached its endpoint with remote sensing. It is quite the contrary: the next step in aerospace and, without it, the possibility of building a space-based infrastructure will become too expensive a dream, as the payments for the NASA-led Space Station will show.

A Hansson

Senior science consultant

Reaction Engines

London, UK

Source: Flight International