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China to Take Tourists to Space Aboard World’s Biggest Spaceplane

Oct 05, 2016 05:14 AM EDT
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China is developing what could be the world's biggest spaceplane, and it will fly up to 20 passengers to space. The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology in Beijing has designed a simple, one-piece spaceplane that could be scaled up to carry more people.

According to a report from New Scientist, Lui Haiquang, an academy rocket scientist, announced the new development during the International Astronautical Congress held in Guadalajara, Mexico from Sept. 26 to 30.

The spaceplane is said to be capable of flying 20 passengers to space, which is significantly more people than any other commercial spaceflight company has pledged to carry. The vehicle will run on liquid methane and liquid oxygen, and will launch vertically like a rocket and land on the runway automatically without any ground or on-board intervention, academy team leader Han Pengxin said in the report.

According to the academy, the rocket plane will have two versions. The first one will have a mass of 10 tons and a wingspan of six meters, and will be capable of flying five people to an altitude of 100 kilometers, with speeds of up to Mach 6 and allowing two minutes of weightlessness. The other is a scaled-up version with a mass of 100 tons and a 12-meter wingspan, which could fly 20 people to an altitude of 130 kilometers at speeds of Mach 8, giving four minutes of weightlessness.

Both versions will be reusable and the larger spacecraft could also be used in carrying small satellites into orbit.

"Test flights will be finished in the next two years, because almost all of the ground tests have been finished and all the subsystems of the test vehicle worked very well," Han said in a statement. The state-backed Chinese company said that a seat would cost between $200,000 and $250,000.

The space tourism industry is continuously growing. The major players include Virgin Galactic, whose SpaceShipTwo spaceplane that could ferry six passengers to near-space, XCOR Aerospace, whose Lynx space vehicle could fly one passenger seated beside a pilot, and Blue Origin, whose New Shepard suborbital space capsule could fly six tourists to space to experience microgravity.

China launched its second space lab Tiangong-2 into space last month, as well as the world's first quantum-communications satellite in August of this year.

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