According to British researchers, the development of space tourism could experience a marked acceleration in the next decade. Within 10 years, suborbital flights will compete with air travel and drastically reduce travel times. You still have to bear the journey.
It is one of the longest journeys in the world. Today, it takes an average of 22 hours to travel from London to Sydney by plane. A journey that includes at least one stopover. For its part, the Australian company Qantas Airways hopes to reshuffle the cards by offering a direct flight of “only” 19 hours from 2025. It has also just placed a nice order for 12 Airbus A350-1000s, the only models able to accomplish this feat.
But according to British civil aviation, these figures could soon be a thing of the past. In a study commissioned from researchers at King’s College London, it will be possible to reach Sydney from the British capital in just two short hours from 2033. How? By using suborbital flights already developed by companies like Virgin, Space X and Blue Origin, the space company of Jeff Bezos.
The problem is that this type of flight has nothing to do with the experience we have of conventional airlines. Takeoff, passage through the thermosphere and descent expose passengers to extremely powerful forces. The English scientists therefore tried to determine if an ordinary, untrained traveler could withstand such a violent flight.
fasten your seatbelts
To achieve a suborbital flight, a shuttle first needs a strong acceleration on takeoff. It is estimated that in the ascent phase, a passenger must take about 4G for about 20 seconds, i.e. 4 times the gravity felt on earth. The device will then reach an altitude of 100 km, an area called “Karman Line”, the border between the Earth’s atmosphere and space. Here the gravity is close to zero but strong enough to pull the device down to the ground in a controlled fall. On board, the pressure of the first moments disappears to give way to the characteristic floating of space flights. Then comes the descent phase during which the shuttle reaccelerates and imposes a force of 6G on the passengers literally nailed to their seats for about ten seconds. If you wanted to go to the bathroom before landing, you had to anticipate.
For the scientists at King’s College, this trip to hell is still accessible to ordinary mortals. According to them, “the accelerations experienced during suborbital flights are generally well tolerated by passengers” because they are only felt for a few seconds. However, they can have very variable physiological consequences depending on the profile. The stronger the gravity, the more the heart struggles to properly irrigate the body. Future space tourists should therefore be warned before boarding and present no problems related to blood circulation. Exit therefore people prone to phlebitis.
Prices still too high
At present, the main limitation to suborbital flights remains the price. The privileged few who were able to board thanks to Space X paid the modest sum of $655,000. British civil aviation estimates that the first regular flights by 2033 should cost half as much and that they will continue to fall thanks to growing demand and the widespread acquisition of suitable aircraft by the various companies.
While waiting for this aerial revolution, the fastest journey for a London-Sydney flight is still attributed to the Concorde which covered the 17,526 km which separate the two cities in just 17 hours in 1985. At the time, the plane had still had to make 3 stopovers in Bahrain, Sri Lanka and Perth to refuel. Since then, the Concorde has disappeared and its record could experience the same fate within ten years.
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