Bristol Spaceplanes business aims to make space tourism a reality

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Written by:   | Posted 06-February-2014 9:58

A tiny company based in South Gloucestershire has ambitions which reach all the way to the stars.

Bristol Spaceplanes, which was set up by veteran aviation engineer David Ashford, wants to make space tourism affordable for as many people as possible and Mr Ashford believes he has the know-how and experience to make the dream a reality.

The firm has launched an appeal to raise cash for his venture through the Crowdcube website. The firm is looking to raise £150,000 from founders to pay for the next stage of development.

Mr Ashford said: "Our product is the know-how and the designs for a step-by-step development sequence of space-planes. We’re planning to start with a small demonstrator which will lead to a craft capable of slashing the cost of access to space and leading to a new space age."

He added: "It costs about £35million to send someone to space. This is because most launches use large and complicated components that can fly once only. This is a hangover from the early days of using converted ballistic missiles. We believe there is a straightforward and fairly obvious way to slash costs. This is to develop rocket-powered aeroplanes that can provide an 'airline' service to orbit-spaceplanes."

According to Mr Ashford the planes were studied seriously by about a dozen aircraft companies in the 1960s and were considered the next step and just about feasible at the time.

But the craft were never built due to costs and the fact the super-powers were caught up in the Cold War. By the early 1970s launchers became a part of the culture of space agencies and major industrial players.

Mr Ashford said: "Today, the major obstacle we face is mind-set. It could be said that the space agencies and major players aren’t taking spaceplanes seriously. The idea that a small company can have the best strategy for transforming spaceflight seems far too good to be true, and our main challenge is to persuade large investors and major players to start a serious dialogue."

"We’ve therefore worked up the conceptual design for our analysis to be the most competitive first orbital spaceplane, and a realistic step-by-step development programme for making it happen, starting with the small demonstrator spaceplane."

Mr Ashford graduated from Imperial College, London, in aeronautical engineering and spent a year at Princeton doing post-graduate research on rocket motors.

His first job in 1961, was with the Hawker Siddeley Aviation hypersonics design team, working on spaceplanes, among other projects. He has since worked at Douglas Aircraft and at what is now BAE Systems on various projects, including DC-8, DC-10, Concorde, the Skylark sounding rocket, and various missile and electronic warfare systems. He has written three books on spaceplanes.

For four years, he was on the Board of the West of England Aerospace Forum, and in  2010 was team leader for a creating a technology roadmap for a small UK satellite launcher.

Chief designer is David Kent, who will lead the team to design and build the spaceplane demonstrator.Mr Kent led the team that designed and built the Leopard small business jet.

The investment will be used to pay for the design of the demonstrator and a marketing campaign.

The aim would then be to work with one of the world’s top 20 aircraft manufacturers on the project.


THE current space launch market is worth an estimated £2 billion per year.
Based on a study carried out for the UK Space Agency, Spaceplanes are likely to increase this to about  £50 billion in 15 to 20 years by providing lower costs and improved safety.
The initial market will be carrying science payloads and passengers on brief flights up and down to space height, providing two to three minutes in space.
The next market will be launching small satellites, sending supplies to space stations, and pioneering space tourism in orbit.
Space tourism is then likely to grow rapidly and to become the first new market large enough to provide economies of scale and justify an ‘airline’ service to space.
Several entrepreneurs – including Richard Branson (above) – have invested heavily in ‘new space’ projects, including reusable launchers. However, none of these is following the 1960s design models.


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