China has expressed an interest in space tourism, seriously investing in the industry starting with the largest spaceplane in the world.
China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology is working on an enormous spaceplane, which when ready will be capable of transporting up to 20 people to space. This number is the highest recorded of passengers accommodated by a commercial spaceflight company.
The state-owned company has started on the project by designing a one-piece spaceplane, which will eventually be built to carry even more passengers. Academy rocket scientist Lui Haiquang spoke of the project on an event in Mexico.
The team has already proposed two prototype designs of the commercial rocket plane. The first has 10 tons, and will be followed by a more complex prototype of 100 tons. The first rocket is designed to fly up to 62 miles high — at the official line that marks the beginning of space travel — while the second prototype will go 19 miles farther.
"The vehicle will take off vertically like a rocket and land on the runway automatically without any ground or on-board intervention," according to Han Pengxin, the academy team leader.
The rocket plane will burn liquid oxygen and liquid methane.
Some members of the scientific community, however, are skeptical about how realistic these plans are. Roger Launius, spaceflight expert and former NASA cheif historian, believes that the project is an "interesting initiative" but is also concerned that it lacks technical details.
"The most unusual part is the belief that they can send up to 20 people to 100 kilometers and more on a rocket without a mother ship and no staging, reusing it some 50 times. It's not explained how that will be accomplished. And the fact that they think they can test fly in the next 2 years is remarkable," Launius said.
The Chinese company is not the only one to invest in commercial space travel. SpaceShip Two of Virgin Galactic will also transport passengers into space, but no more than six at a time. And so will Blue Origin, whose project New Shepard is already scheduled for flight tests. However, the Chinese project is significantly more ambitious, aiming to satisfy the increasing number of common people interested in such travel experiences.
The space tourism industry isn't only constantly growing due to the large number of projects that are currently under development, but also because of the people willing to visit space who are going to have a large spectrum of choices once these projects will be released to the public. The Chinese rocket is to be finished in no more than two years, since "almost all of the ground tests have been finished and all the subsystems of the test vehicle worked very well," said Han.