A study will consider the business case for the Skylon reusable space plane with funding from the European Space Agency.
The vehicle proposed by the UK firm Reaction Engines would be powered by an air-breathing rocket engine that could enable it to take off and land at a standard runway.
The key to the ground-breaking design is the company’s SABRE engine, which can switch between a conventional air-breathing jet-engine mode for atmospheric travel and a rocket mode, relying on on-board stored oxygen, for travel above the Earth’s atmosphere.
Funding for the study, which will run until the end of the year, is €1m (£0.9m) and research will be led by REL themselves.
The study is looking into how the spaceplane ccould meet Europe’s space access demands for satellite launches from the early 2020’s in terms of cost, flexibility and responsiveness.
Last month the UK government provided an extra £60m of funding to Reaction Engines to develop their Skylon concept to help them build a full-scale prototype as the next step towards commercialisation.
A consortium of companies will contribute to the study including ThalesAlenia Space in Italy, who will be designing the Skylon Upper Stage (SUS) systems for GEO satellite deployment; and Qinetiq Space in Belgium who are to study the various payload carriers within the vehicle’s payload bay to ensure maximum mission flexibility.
London Economics are preparing the business model to independently assess the economic case; and Grafton Technology, based in the UK and supported by the civil engineering company, Jacobs, are studying the necessary spaceport facilities that would have to be built at the Esa launch site in Kourou, French Guinea.
Also supporting the study in the definition of the payload connections is 42 Technology, based in the UK.