Three air launch concepts for suborbital vehicle systems could gain European Union funding, as a similar project ending this October proposes a costed Airbus A330-200 freighter launch platform demonstration.
The three concepts for the proposed €11 million ($15.2 million) FAST20XX project are the two-stage Spaceliner from German aerospace centre DLR, a single-stage design by the UK company Gas Dynamics and another German proposal involving a manned version of the DLR's automatic glide and landing Phoenix test vehicle - to be launched from an Antonov's rear cargo door. The FAST20XX project proposal is awaiting approval for the EU's Seventh Framework programme.
"The modified Phoenix would use a hybrid rocket and carry four passengers and one pilot. A larger version could carry five or six passengers, but we could only fit three of those in the Antonov, instead of four," says FAST20XX participant Harry Idrim, a partner in the Berlin-based consultancy, Aerospace Institute.
With its final report submission in October the 12-month, €127,000 "Future high altitude flight - an attractive commercial niche?" (Flacon) project, managed by the European Space Agency, will give a rough cost estimate for a flight demonstration involving an A330-200F.
That demonstration is for the 14.2m (46.5ft)-long, 20,000kg (44,000lb) mass EADS Astrium proposed Bremen Engineering Operations Science suborbital vehicle being deployed from the top of an A330-200F at 32,700ft at a speed of 521kt (964km/h).
"A demonstration is possible and affordable," says ESA's Flacon co-ordinator Wilhelm Kordulla.