The key-challenge of space transportation is the reduction in launch cost. Production is one of the main cost drivers due to the very low manufacturing numbers of stages and engines. Without a new market application for space technology no improvement is to be expected.
DLR has developed a vision which ultimately has the potential to enable sustainable, low-cost space transportation to orbit. The number of launches per year should be strongly raised and hence manufacturing and operating cost of launcher hardware should dramatically shrink. The obvious challenge of the vision is to identify the very application creating this new, large-size market.
Intercontinental airline traffic is a huge and mature market. Since the termination of Concorde operation, intercontinental travel is restricted to low-speed, subsonic, elongated multi-hour flight. Launcher technologies could be very attractive for long distances (> 9000 km) by allowing significantly reduced flight times.
A new kind of high-speed transport based on a two-stage Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) has been proposed by DLR under the name SpaceLiner. Ultra long-haul distances like Europe – Australia could be flown in 90 minutes. Another interesting intercontinental route between Europe and North-West America could be reduced to flight times of slightly more than one hour.
Such rocket-based, ultra-fast transportation far in excess of supersonic and even potential hypersonic airplanes is a fundamental new application for launch vehicles. Even in the case that only a very small portion of the upper business-travel segment could be tapped by the SpaceLiner, production rates of RLVs and their rocket engines could increase hundredfold which is out of reach for all other known earth-orbit space transportation system concepts. The fast, intercontinental travel application of space technology would not only attract the business- and leisure market, would, as a byproduct, also enable to considerably reduce the cost of space transportation to orbit.
Sippel, M.: Introducing the SpaceLiner Vision, 7th International Symposium on Launcher Technologies, Barcelona, Spain, April 2-5, 2007
Sippel, M.: Promising roadmap alternatives for the SpaceLiner, Acta Astronautica, Vol. 66, Iss. 11-12, (2010)
Sippel, M.; Schwanekamp, T.; Trivailo, O.; Lentsch, A.: Progress of SpaceLiner Rocket-Powered High-Speed Concept, IAC-13-D2.4.05, IAC2013, Beijing, September 2013