The Chinese company Space Transportation is developing a "rocket with wings" for space tourism and point-to-point travel.
"We are developing a winged rocket for high-speed, point-to-point transportation, which is lower in cost than rockets that carry satellites and faster than traditional aircraft," the company said in a recent interview (opens in new tab) with Yicheng Times.
The space plane would aim to provide rapid transport between two locations on Earth through suborbital travel and be fully reusable.
A video presentation on Space Transportation's website (opens in new tab) demonstrates the ambitious plans. It shows animated passengers boarding a plane attached to a wing powered by rockets. After a vertical takeoff, the plane detaches from the rocket-powered wing and continues its suborbital journey to Dubai in the Middle East, landing vertically on three legs deployed from the rear.
The company, whose full name is Beijing Lingkong Tianxing Technology Co., Ltd., revealed (opens in new tab) that ground tests are planned by 2023 with a first flight in 2024 and a crewed flight in 2025.
Even more ambitiously, a test flight of a global, or orbital, crewed space vehicle is planned by 2030, the company says. Space Transportation was founded in 2018, according to the company's website.
If all of this seems a bit fast, the plans have not appeared out of the blue. Space Transportation announced last August that it had raised $46.3 million (opens in new tab) for its hypersonic space plane plans, and the company has recently been conducting a number of tests of its Tianxing 1 and Tianxing 2 vehicles. A 10th flight test was conducted on Jan. 23, followed by another test (opens in new tab) in collaboration with a combustion laboratory belonging to Tsinghua University.
Details about these test flight activities (opens in new tab) have been limited, possibly due to the sensitive nature of hypersonic-related technologies.
The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), China's main space contractor, in 2020 and 2021 conducted highly secretive launch tests of suborbital (opens in new tab) and orbital vehicles from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center as part of a space plane development program.
Other space plane projects are underway across the globe. Most notably, Virgin Galactic conducted a fully crewed suborbital flight of its VSS Unity vehicle in July last year. That mission carried Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, among other passengers.
And last week, Radian Aerospace, a company based near Seattle, announced its plans for a single-stage-to-orbit reusable launch vehicle after closing a $27.5 million funding round.
CAS Space, an aerospace company spun off from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is also developing its own suborbital tourism services, this one using a rocket system resembling that demonstrated by Jeff Bezos' aerospace company, Blue Origin.