A Chinese start-up is developing a hypersonic space plane that will transport passengers from one country to another with suborbital flights.
The ambitious project is called Space Transportation and is being developed by Beijing Lingkong Tianxing Technology.
It will transform the travel industry if successful. For example, it would allow passengers from Beijing to reach Dubai in one hour, instead of the nine hours it takes on a regular plane.
While the idea isn’t new – there are a few other companies trying to accomplish the task – this start-up is making notable progress, with ground testing expected to take place in 2023.
Last year, the company managed to secure $62 million in funding for its projects through Shanghai-level industry investment fund Silk Road Golden Bridge and Tianqi Venture Capital.
“Lingkong Tianxing’s product is a high-speed aircraft. Imagine, in less than two hours, we can fly from the Eastern Hemisphere to the Western Hemisphere,” said Zuo Lingye, a partner at Jingwei China, one of the startup’s investment partners.
“It may be the next generation of aircraft that will have a major impact on global passenger transport and logistics.”
An animation on the company’s website shows passengers boarding a space plane in Beijing’s spaceport.
The vehicle detaches from a rocket-powered wing once it is high enough – similar to the technique used by Virgin Galactic for its suborbital flights.
Except this one takes off vertically and can reach speeds of 10,000 kilometers per hour, as it travels 7,000 kilometers across the edge of space and to the Middle East in just 60 minutes.
It lands vertically on a spaceport in Dubai, using legs that fold out when it lands.
Passengers could book their spaceflight tickets through an app and use it as a boarding pass.
The rocket-powered wing is reusable and would return to the take-off point once the spaceplane detaches from it.
The company plans to conduct ground tests in 2023 and hold an uncrewed flight test in 2024. By 2025, a crewed flight test would take place.
It is hoped that the first commercial flight will take place by 2030.
China has been carrying out test launches of suborbital and orbital vehicles from the Jiuqan Satellite Launch Center since 2020.
Advances in Suborbital Travel
So far, only Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have successfully flown commercial crewed suborbital flights. Elon Musk’s SpaceX sent tourists into orbit and to the International Space Station.
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo flew to the far reaches of space last summer, with company owner Richard Branson aboard the first flight.
The experiments on both spacecraft involve a few minutes of weightlessness before they return close to where they took off from.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard flight takes off vertically and climbs higher than SpaceShipTwo, crossing the Karman Line, the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and the beginning of space.
A few years ago, Virgin Galactic said it would be able to fly passengers from one country to another, using spaceports that would be built in different parts of the world.
The company uses its Spaceport America launch pad in New Mexico for its current launches, though authorities grounded their flights after the summer’s first and only suborbital flight veered off course.
Operations are expected to resume by the end of this year, with ticket sales reopening to the public.
An agreement between Abu Dhabi Airports and Virgin Galactic was signed in 2019 to build a spaceport at Al Ain Airport, however, no update has been provided since.
Last year, the UAE Ministry of Economy and Blue Origin agreed to explore ways to develop a space tourism market in the Emirates, including a spaceport.
Updated: February 18, 2022, 6:00 p.m.