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Published:27 October 1998
Origin:Presented to the Institution of Incorporated Engineers, 27 October 1998

A revolution in the way we operate in space is imminent. Within the limitations of technical forecasting, it is highly likely that passenger flights to space will start within a decade. The cost of operating space stations and of sending people to orbit will be reduced by about one thousand times within 15 years.

The revolution will involve replacing launchers based on ballistic missiles by those based on aeroplanes. Ballistic missiles have the major disadvantage that they can fly once only. This is the fundamental cause of the high cost and risk of present spaceflight. Spaceplanes could have entered service some twenty five years ago, but NASA had alternative priorities. Technology is now such that a sub-orbital spaceplane is within the scope of a small aerospace company.

The logic behind these forecasts is simple and robust. It has been well publicised and is supported by a growing number of people in the field. It is not widely appreciated because it is not in line with the present policies of NASA and ESA.

The paper explains the arguments behind these predictions, and describes a straightforward project that would enable the UK to take the lead in setting up the new spaceplane industry.

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