Skip to main content

Future High-Altitude High-Speed Transport 20XX

Periodic Report Summary - FAST20XX (Future high-altitude high-speed transport 20XX)

Project context and objectives:

The 'Future high-altitude high-speed transport 20XX' (FAST20XX) project aims to provide a sound technological foundation for the industrial introduction of suborbital transportation in the medium term (5 - 10 years) and in the longer term (second part of this century), defining the most critical research and technological development (RTD)-associated building blocks to achieve this goal. Note that it is not the development of vehicles which is planned but the mastering of technologies required for such development should the decision be made in Europe. In addition, the corresponding required critical non-technical building blocks are identified. The identified critical technologies have been investigated in depth by developing and / or applying dedicated analytical, numerical and experimental tools, while the legal / regulatory issues have been discussed with government or international authorities as necessary. The underlying philosophy is to use realistic as well as futuristic concepts as guidelines for technology developments and for initiating answers to non-technical issues.

The project objectives can be broken down as follows:

(1) The definition of three novel concepts for high-altitude high-speed transportation which satisfy the desire of humans to leave the atmosphere and view the earth from space and / or provide reference concepts for transatmospheric, point-to-point transportation. The first concept, ALPHA, is air launched from a carrier plane to reach the confines of the atmosphere by means of a hybrid rocket engine and then glides back to earth unpowered for a conventional runway landing. The 2nd and third concepts, both rocket-propelled (SpaceLiner and EVE), intend to transport about 50 people across long distances in extremely short time as well. The fully reusable two-stage Spaceliner would start vertically and land horizontally, while the EVE take-off would be assisted by a magnetically-levitated sled. Particular attention will be given to how such concepts can be put into operational use, and their respective benefits and environmental impact have been assessed.

(2) The identification of the prerequisites for the commercial operation of high-altitude high-speed transport: It will be quite important for future developments to tackle legal issues, and to reduce the necessary certification efforts common to commercial transport in a meaningful way. Liability and insurance issues have been considered as well. Medical research has to be revisited and the requirements with respect to acceleration loads a normal passenger have been reassessed. Last but not least an abort capability is required, satisfying the highest safety requirements.

(3) The identification of critical technologies: Any development efforts will be dominated by safety aspects, hence achieving robust designs yielding high reliability. A major issue will be amongst others the process of separation of the particular transportation vehicle and the launching carrier as well as the booster, the choice of trajectories which are comfortable for the normal passenger, the stability of the flight during all phases, efficient and safe hybrid propulsion and advanced light-weight structures. Operational re-usability is a major driver for cost efficiency, and commercial attractiveness. Particular attention has to be paid to the effect on environment which concerns the reduction of noise and of emissions. While special heat protection is not required for vertical ballistic suborbital flight, the combination of high-speed and long-range capability leads to heat loads at several location of the vehicle including leading edges and stagnation point which will require novel structural concepts in connection with classical or composite materials.

It must be emphasised that a number of significant technological advancements have been achieved during FAST20XX, notwithstanding their exploratory (and thus uncertain) nature. FAST20XX, coordinated by ESA-ESTEC, has been supported by the European Commission (EC)'s Transport Theme of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), Contract No ACP8-GA-2009-233816.

List of websites: http://www.esa.int/fast20xx