Some reaction (and clarification) on the EADS Astrium announcement this week about its plans to develop a suborbital vehicle for space tourism markets:
Burt Rutan, contacted by SPACE.com, doesn’t think much of the plan. He thinks it, and other rocket-powered aircraft that take off from a runway under rocket or jet power, will be more expensive to develop and operate, and also have greater operational risks. “The non-recurring development cost of a suborbital spaceship that has rocket and jet engines — both of which leave the atmosphere and experience reentry — will be far more than our SpaceShipTwo program,” he said.
The vice president of the European Commission, Guenter Verheugen, is also dissatisfied with the Astrium proposal, but for very different reasons: “It’s only for the super rich, which is against my social convictions,” he told Reuters. (One wonders what he thinks of the many terrestrial luxury items and resorts that are also affordable only by the “super rich” in Europe or elsewhere.) The article also notes that an Airbus official “declined to answer a question on the apparent paradox of a company trying to cut emissions in one area while investing in a project to blast rich travellers into space.” Perhaps because the paradox wasn’t apparent to him or others.
Also, thanks to a few readers that helped alleviate my ignorance about the seating inside Astrium’s “space jet”. It turns out the seats are hinged on each end, allowing the seats to rotate into the proper position during ascent so that the g-forces are aligned on the Gx vector through the body. It turns out there’s an illustration in a brochure about the vehicle, although, curiously, no matching image in a photo gallery. In any case, it makes much more sense to me now.