Russians develop unique space plane

A Russian space plane may appear at least 30 years earlier than a similar US spacecraft, Ivan Obraztsov, full-time member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and academic supervisor of the Applied Mechanics Institute, told RIA Novosti here today.

For its own part, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued its license April 8, thus allowing the Scaled Composites company to operate the first-ever private suborbital plane, i.e. SpaceShipOne, at 100-km altitudes, the US mass media reports.

According to Obraztsov, Russian experts had designed a cargo-passenger space plane capable of flying at 90-200-km altitudes in the early 1970s; that spacecraft could hurtle along at 30,000 kph. However, that project never took off the ground because of financial snags.

Our calculations show that it would take just 50 minutes to fly from Moscow to New York. A Moscow-Tokyo flight would last 53 minutes; meanwhile it will take 66 minutes to reach Sydney from Moscow, he pointed out.

This space plane, due to be fitted with rocket engines, can become the ultimate tourist attraction, Obraztsov went on to say.

Calculations show that the flight from Moscow to New York on board of our space plane till take 50 minutes, to Tokyo - 53 minutes and to Sydney -one hour and six minutes, he pointed out.

A scale (1 : 25) model has already been tested successfully, highlighting the suborbital plane's clean lines and design, Obraztsov said.

In his words, it would cost $300 to orbit one kilogram of payload aboard a single-stage space plane to the altitude of 200 kilometres, with a two-stage vehicle reducing such costs to $100 per kilogram.

The space plane's tourist versions have already been developed, making it possible to carry between six and 1,000 passengers at 100-km altitudes and at a speed of 30,000 kph, Obraztsov went on to say. G-loads will be minimized, resembling those being encountered inside high-speed elevators.

This UFO-shaped space plane has two tail pylons. Its crew will be sitting inside the fuselage's front section, which can also stow cargo, and rocket engines in the back section. The new spacecraft can fly in the automatic mode; or it can be crewed by space pilots.

The 75-meter space plane will have a take-off mass of 180 tons; plans are in place to install liquid-propellant rocket engines firing a liquid-hydrogen and oxygen mixture.

The first spacecraft stage will be fitted with six RD-701 rocket engines, which were developed at the Energo-Mash science-and-production association, and which develop a 120-ton specific thrust, Obraztsov said in conclusion.

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