Space Tourism Firm Unveils Orbital Spacecraft Concept

Space Tourism Firm Unveils Orbital Spacecraft Concept
The private spaceflight partnership PlanetSpace-Canadian Arrow announced plans to build the Silver Dart spacecraft, an orbital vehicle designed to launch eight people into space. (Image credit: PlanetSpace/Canadian Arrow.)

A spacetourism group developing a suborbital rocket ship is now taking aim at orbitaltrips with a new spacecraft that doubles as a hypersonic glider.

Canada's London,Ontario-based firm PlanetSpace unveiled designs forits SilverDart spacecraft, an eight-personvehicle derived from experimental aircraft studies in the 1970s, Thursdaywith hopes of carrying fare-paying passengers into orbit and resupplying the International Space Station (ISS).

"The SilverDart is the DC-3 of the space industry," said Geoff Sheerin,PlanetSpace president and CEO, in a telephoneinterview. "It has so many things going for it in terms of performance."

Sheerin'sSilver Dart program is separate from his Canadian Arrow effort to use a provenV2 rocket design to build a three-person rocket ship for suborbital flights.Plans for the Silver Dart date back about four years as Sheerinwas researching the Canadian Arrow rocket to compete in the $10 million Ansari X Prize competition for suborbital spaceflight.

"About fivepercent of my time has been looking and poring over the program," Sheerin said of the Silver Dart plans.

But NASA'sintention to purchase commercialservices for both cargo and crew flights to the ISS encouraged Sheerin and his team to push forward with their work. NASAplans to retire its three remaining space shuttles - Atlantis, Endeavour andDiscovery - in 2010.

Based onthe U.S. Air Force's Flight Dynamics Laboratory-7 (FDL-7) program, the SilverDart is a lifting body designed to glide from hypersonic speeds of Mach 22 downto landing, PlanetSpace officials said. The spacecraftis expected to launch vertical atop a stack of about 10 Canadian Arrow rocketengines and landhorizontally on an aircraft runway, they added.

The firstSilver Dart spaceflight is expected follow the inaugural manned Canadian Arrowlaunches, the first of which is slated for 2008 with four more to follow, Sheerin said.

"You wantto have a multitude of vehicles," said PlanetSpacechairman Chrinjeev Kathuria. "With the CanadianArrow, you'd want to enter the [spaceflight] market very quickly. The secondstage is the Silver Dart."

NASA basedits X-24B test aircraft on the FDL-7 lifting body and valued the added rangeand stability the sleek, sharp-nosed design, according to documentation fromthe space agency's Dryden Flight Research Facility in California.

Paul Cyzsz, an engineer who worked on the original FDL-7 effortand is guiding PlanetSpace's Silver Dart work, saidthe new spacecraft would use a 1960-1970s era shell wrapped around a lighterinner body with updated, modern electronics.

"Theadvantage of an all metal aircraft is that you can land in any kind ofweather," said Paul Cyzsz, adding that unlike NASA'sspace shuttle - which does not land in rain to prevent damage to its exterior."You can't trap it in space, it can always get back tothe continental United States."

Cyzszsaid the FDL-7's lifting body design would also give the Silver Dart abouttwice the lift coefficient as NASA's space shuttles at subsonic speeds.

"We'recommitted to building the Silver Dart," Sheerin said,adding that he decided early on that his program needed the additionalperformance of a different space vehicle. "I really kind offeel in love with this concept."

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.