SINGAPORE — EADS Astrium has disclosed that Singapore will be a partner in its suborbital spaceplane program.

At the Global Space & Technology Convention in Singapore, EADS Astrium executives announced that Singapore will be building a small-scale demonstrator of the spaceplane and may be involved in developing parts for the commercial product. EADS Astrium is also hoping Singapore will ultimately have a fleet of its commercial spaceplanes stationed at Singapore’s Changi Airport.

Christophe Chavagnac, EADS Astrium’s suborbital spaceplane chief engineer and program manager, says Singapore companies will be designing and building a small-scale demonstrator spaceplane used to test aerodynamics and glide capability. It will have no engines, whereas the real vehicle uses turbofan engines as well as a rocket engine.

The spaceplane’s two fuselage-mounted commercial turbofan engines are needed for takeoff and initial ascent. Once it reaches an altitude of 12 km. (7.5 mi.), the rocket engine takes over.

A maximum altitude of 100 km. is achieved before the spaceplane descends. There is a period when it glides, before the turbofan engines are started and the vehicle makes its approach and lands.

The fact that it uses conventional turbofan engines means it is designed to take off and land from commercial airports. EADS Astrium also plans to apply for EASA certification for the vehicle.

Hughes Laporte-Weywada, EADS Astrium’s senior vice president for Asia-Pacific international sales and marketing, says the company has yet to officially launch the program because — like other commercial programs — the company needs to first get launch customers. Once the program is officially underway, it will take about seven years before the spacecraft will receive certification, Laporte-Weywada predicts. The program will need to build three spacecraft for the certification flight-test effort, he adds.

But even though the program has yet to be launched, the company is proceeding with building the demonstrator, which will be about 3-4 meters long, with a comparable wingspan, Laporte-Weywada says. Building and testing the demonstrator will take 18 months, he says. The real spaceplane, meanwhile, will be much larger and will have a maximum takeoff weight of about 20 tons, he adds.

Developing and building the demonstrator in Singapore means some of the demonstrator flights will occur there. For example, there will be one flight in which a helicopter will lift the demonstrator about 3 km. off the ground and then drop it to see how it glides. Other demonstrator flights will involve balloon drops from higher altitudes, but these are likely to be done elsewhere due to Singapore’s limited airspace.

EADS Astrium has the support of Singapore’s Economic Board, which has been examining for some time the development of a spaceport in the city-state.

Chavagnac says EADS Astrium last year “did a study for operating a fleet of spaceplanes from Singapore Changi Airport.

There is a dynamic market in Southeast Asia and the spaceplane would have a valuable impact on Singapore’s tourism industry.” If Singapore has a fleet of spaceplanes then it may also have a role in maintaining them, he adds.

The EADS Astrium spaceplane seats four passenger and one pilot. The flight up and back lasts about 1 hr. Its rocket engine is derived from EADS Astrium’s Vulcain engines used for satellite launchers.

But those have 120-130 tons of thrust, whereas the spaceplane’s rocket engine will have 40 tons, EADS Astrium says. The turbofan engines, used for takeoff and landing, will have about 10,000 lb. of thrust, according to Chavagnac.

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