Is Anyone Developing a Space Plane?

I read something about such an aircraft/space ship. It would take off like a rocket, enter space, and come back to earth (in a parabolic path). The idea would be to have super-fast air travel-something like 2 hours, NYC-Tokyo.
Is this concept viable? Would it be nery-efficient enough to compete with standard jet aircraft?
I like the idea of getting to a destination real fast-I hate being cooped up for 18+ hours.

Richard Bransonis planning commercial space flights for 2011.

While not a space plane, Boeing recently looked into making a higher-speed airplane, the Sonic Cruiser. It was canceled in 2002 because there didn’t appear to be interest from industry, since the industry has been focused on driving costs down through even better fuel economy.

Although there’s always talk of a very high speed aircraft that would go from New York to Tokyo in a couple hours, it doesn’t seem that the aviation industry is really investing serious effort in it, either from a technology or business standpoint.

So, you’re just going to have to get up and stretch your legs on your 18 hour flights. Just how often do you fly to Singapore, anyway?

Sounds like you are remembering the National Aerospace Plane, which was proposed by President Reagan in his 1986 State of the Union speech. His pitch was “…a new Orient Express that could, by the end of the next decade, take off from Dulles Airport, accelerate up to 25 times the speed of sound, attaining low earth orbit or flying to Tokyo within two hours.”

It never got that far, and the real desire behind the idea was probably more about giving the Air Force a new bomber than a passenger aircraft.

Not that research on such a vehicle is stopped though, there’s the X-43 and X-51 projects which are both highly scaled down to the original X-30 concept.

I believe these flights just go up and come back down to the same spaceport.

Branson’s plans with Space Ship 2 is strictly “space tourism”, not travel; pop up, get a few minutes of free fall in a parabolic path, and come back down. A fractional orbital vehicle or waverider spaceplane requires a more robust thermal protection/reentry system. Most spaceplane programs like the National Aerospace Plane (NASP) and the VentureStar orbital spaceplane have been canceled due to technical issues and funding. A few private programs like Skylon are still in process albeit at a low and often intermittent level of funding, but the technical hurdles and lack of fiscal justification for the cost of development and operation make it unlikely we’ll see two hour NY-Tokyo flights any time soon.


The cost is simply not worth it for rapid travel use.

Consider that Spaceship Two flights cost $200,000 and only stay in space five minutes.

Realizing that further development will make travel cheaper, but Spaceship Two is the technology we are talking about when we are talking about using space to travel far and fast. Given a few years it would be feasible to make a NY to Tokyo flight - but is there enough demand in the day and age of instant internet communication for such flights to take 80% less time for ten times the cost. - Probably not.

Until we develop an alternate method of getting to space, the fuel/propulsion methods we currently have make the concept of a space plane cost prohibitive. Space Elevators and suborbital shuttles on the other hand might make such trips viable in the next 50 years.

An article on p. 52 of the current issue of Discover talks about a spaceport being built in New Mexico. It says:

I guess that’s not the same thing as “under development”.

The Concord was based on well-established technologies and actually worked, and there wasn’t enough of a market to keep it flying. I expect a space plane, at least for commercial purposes, would be more of the same.

The main problem with the Sonic Cruiser was that it was not significantly faster than normal commercial aircraft. It would have travelled at less than Mach 1. Commercial aircraft operate between Mach 0.8 and 0.85 already, so we aren’t talking about Concorde-like improvement. (Concorde flew at Mach 2.)

Not sure why this is relevant. Living in Australia, the prospect of high speed air travel is certainly attractive. The west coast of the US is 15 hours from Sydney - the east coast is about 24 (once an adequate layover is included), and the UK is 24 hours. I do those trips a couple of times every year - it’s no fun. Plenty of business people do the trips many, many more times each year than I do.

Unfortunately the cost of developing high speed travel is prohibitive.

I’ve read articles about Hypersonic Planes but I’m not clear if such planes were meant for city-to-city travel or to go to space and back.

It is just a light poke at the claim that the OP doesn’t like to be confined for 18 hours at a time, by pointing out that there are only two scheduled flights in the world that reach 18 hour flight times. I’m just pointing out hyperbole, not advocating for slower airplanes.

The basic problem is that to reach orbit you have to get up to about 18,000 miles per hour. Even trans-Pacific, say half-way around the world - 12,000 miles in 2 hours is 6,000 mph, but now you have to factor in air resistance.

The general design using current rocket engines means an orbital craft has to be about 90% fuel by weight. NASA and others compensate byshedding some of the dead weight when the engines and tanks are used up; either inelegantly like the Saturn stages or shuttle solid boosters, or maybe elegantly like the Virgin lifting aircraft.

There is also the problem that these craft would need to have a secondary engine to maneuver on approach (more dead weight to orbit); the shuttle has often been compared to “flying a brick” with it’s steep glide path; and you don’t get to pull up and go around like regular aircraft.

not that it won’t happen someday, perhaps. But, the high-tech cutting edge engineering means it will be a while, and it won’t be cheap for a while.