What if Concorde could be used to operate the first regular space tourism service?

Concorde is too heavy to reach outer space, but could it perhaps be converted from transporting passengers on the inside to carrying a small number on top of - or beneath - the airframe in a smaller, executive-sized jet or rocket-powered spaceplane lifted half-way into space?

Weight-reduced derivatives of Alan Bond's (unmanned) Skylon from Reaction Engines, or of David Ashford's Ascender project at Bristol Spaceplanes might conceivably become contenders for the smaller spaceplane, but there may be other more immediately realisable options, some among contenders for the X-Prize. The winner of that prize will make the first sub-orbital lob unassisted, but a subsequent regular service to low-Earth orbit would presumably seek to benefit from the considerable advantage in both maximum cruise velocity and operating ceiling that Concorde can uniquely offer.

The maximum velocity and ceiling of such a hybrid would be reduced significantly below Concorde's currently rated performance, and the supersonic staging separation of two airframes would present perhaps the most formidable of engineering challenges for aerodynamicists.

Heavy development costs could be offset by a reduction in maintenance costs because the new flight profile - basically up and back down again - would no longer require long-haul passenger-carrying capacity. Noise rules seem to mandate staging to orbital injection over water. An option could be for take-off in Asia, with an eastwardly launch to orbit over the Pacific.

Tony Beswick

Warley, West Midlands, UK

Source: Flight International