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Getting Faster: A Case For High-Speed Global Point-To-Point Flight as a Logical Transition Between Suborbital Space Tourism and Low-Cost, Reusable Space Access

Authors:

Dr. John Olds

SpaceWorks Engineering, Inc. (SEI)


Mr. Dominic DePasquale

SpaceWorks Commercial


Abstract:

As the national leadership in the United States reexamines its strategies, policies, and investments with regard to future space access, the members of the FastForward Study Group suggest a new, incremental approach toward achieving the nation’s goals in space. The emerging commercial high-speed global transportation market for passengers and goods offers significant technical and economic synergies with future commercial space access services. Recognizing the key transitional role that this new Point-to-Point (or PTP) transportation service will play between today’s single-site suborbital space tourism markets and future low cost, reliable orbital spaceflight, the FastForward Study Group supports the development of a new coordinated national strategy that recognizes the synergistic role that the emerging market for high-speed global transportation has with the nation’s long-term goals for low-cost, reliable space access.

The long established goals for orbital space transportation are to provide safe, reliable, and affordable transportation services to low Earth orbit. Many industry leaders believe that commercial reusable space launch vehicles (RLVs) will ultimately provide these advantages. However, several high profile national attempts to develop RLVs in the past have failed to achieve a significant improvement toward reaching these goals. Required government investment has been too high and the development risk has been too great when constrained by present-day technologies. An alternate strategy is needed.

A new incremental strategy is offered in this white paper. Ongoing advancements in highspeed aviation and suborbital space tourism will soon produce extremely long range, reusable aerospace vehicles capable of flying at hypersonic speeds and exo-atmospheric altitudes. For some shippers and business travelers speed is crucial, and these aviation customers would greatly value and utilize air transportation systems that fly much faster than achievable today. Moreover, an emerging rapid point-to- point market would be well suited to serve as an effective transitional stepping-stone toward future RLVs for space access. Just like future commercial RLVs, global high-speed PTP flight will require technologies, reusable flight vehicles, business strategies, and ground infrastructures that prioritize reliability, safety, and affordability due to market necessity. If encouraged and supported, these commercially driven advancements in aviation will serve as a sustainable foundation for the emergence of future RLVs capable of orbital access. Rather than requiring significant near-term government investment and large technology leaps, the proposed incremental path will provide a sustainable and logical approach to meeting the nation’s long range goals for space transportation by harnessing the commercial aviation industry’s existing motivation toward “getting faster.”

However, significant challenges remain to this proposed new strategy. A true public/private partnership will be necessary to develop requisite PTP technologies, develop ground infrastructure, provide a viable regulatory and legal framework, and to provide early markets for these emerging point-to-point services. We urge national leadership to work in partnership with the emerging fast-package delivery and high-speed point-to-point industry to first develop and mature the PTP business model, and then to use that foundation as a steppingstone toward achieving safe, reliable, and affordable access to space via commercially developed reusable flight systems.

To gain widespread support, the details of the proposed approach need further definition. Members of the FastForward Study Group have already conducted early research in this area, and we believe it to be promising. However, additional research is needed to produce an actionable set of study products. PTP markets for passengers and priority packages must be better understood and supported with statistically valid analysis. Critical missing technologies must be identified. Aerospaceport needs must be prioritized. Key government roles must be established for various federal and state agencies. Prerequisites for private investment must be identified. As a first step toward better understanding the potential of our proposal, the FastForward Study Group calls for the government to fund a modest study effort, to be completed in the next year, to conduct critical preliminary work to better define this proposed new incremental strategy toward meeting national space transportation needs through the encouragement of synergistic and transitional high speed point-to-point flight.


Bibliographic Reference:

Olds, J., DePasquale, D., "Getting Faster: A Case For High-Speed Global Point-To-Point Flight as a Logical Transition Between Suborbital Space Tourism and Low-Cost, Reusable Space Access," FastForward Study Group Meeting, International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS), Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA, October 21-22, 2009.


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