Ascender Project - Briefing No.1
Welcome to The Ascender Project!
This is Briefing No.1, an introduction to the club and an expansion of the information on the club's homepage at http://www.bristolspaceplanes.com/club/. We have also included a short introduction to the Ascender spaceplane, immediately following the main briefing.
This briefing is for those who have joined the club recently or may be thinking of doing so. If you are interested in:
Then The Ascender Project is the club for you.
A revolution in spaceflight can happen soon, and the aim of the club is to ensure that it does. Member contributions will be used to increase visibility and prove the popularity of space tourism; any excess funds will be directed towards accelerating the development of the Ascender spaceplane, the flagship project of Bristol Spaceplanes Limited (BSP). Simply by joining The Ascender Project, you will be adding your voice to the demand for public access to space, showing the business community that space tourism is not only plausible but also popular.
The main challenge is to gain credibility with potential backers. Ascender can 'get off the ground', so to speak, at remarkably low cost and risk. With the world's major government space agencies spending upward of US $50 billion on the International Space Station, the idea that a small company can trigger the spaceflight revolution for one thousand times less money seems too good to be true. (The development cost of a prototype of Ascender is about £50 million.) The Ascender Project wants you to evaluate the case for Ascender and to back your own conclusions.
A demonstrator of Ascender can fly in two years for just £2 million. This is where you come in. Each person who joins The Ascender Project is another voice demonstrating support for a radical new way ahead in space.
Members of The Ascender Project gain numerous benefits:
To join The Ascender Project, please send your name and address (and email address if you have one), plus a cheque for £25 or foreign equivalent (£15 for students and seniors) payable to:
The Ascender Project
PO Box 719
Bristol BS8 2FA
Membership is annual, and renewable on the anniversary of your joining date.
D M Ashford, Managing Director, Bristol Spaceplanes Limited
This is a short introduction to the Ascender spaceplane. For more information visit the main web page at http://www.bristolspaceplanes/projects/ascender.shtml.
Ascender [fig. 1] is a small aeroplane capable of reaching space. It takes off from an ordinary airfield and climbs to an altitude of 8 km using its jet engines [fig. 2]. The pilot then starts the rocket motor and pulls Ascender into a steep climb. After using up the rocket fuel, Ascender continues to rise, unpowered, to a peak height of 100 km. Gravity then pulls it back down to the atmosphere, where it pulls out of the dive and flies back to the original airfield. The total flight time is approximately 30 minutes. Passengers would see an area the size of England, experience weightlessness for about two minutes, and see the sky turn dark with bright stars, even in daytime.
Ascender uses very little new technology (the X-15 flew higher and faster 40 years ago) and has a long design pedigree: It is updated from a concept first published in 1981  and subsequently studied in a feasibility study for the European Space Agency (ESA). The former Minister for Space commissioned an independent review of this work that broadly endorsed the concept . It has been described in several more recent publications [e.g., 4, 5].
Ascender is already in the public eye: A 2.7 metre-long, radio-controlled model of Ascender, which has helped verify the spaceplane's aerodynamics at low speed, has gained significant press attention, from Aviation Week to BBC TV. Plus, there is a 1-metre model in the Journey Zone at the Millennium Dome photos of both models are available in the gallery at http://www.bristolspaceplanes.com/gallery.shtml
A prototype of Ascender can be flying in four years for an estimated development cost of just £50 million, (US $75 million). Early flights will carry instruments for various kinds of space science. When safety and reliability have been demonstrated, Ascender will carry passengers on space experience flights. Tickets on early passenger flights will cost several tens of £K, but with maturity of design and operations, the cost will come down to one or two £K. Affordable spaceflight will be available within 10 years.
Ascender can prove that an aeroplane with more or less existing technology can make several suborbital flights per day to space. This demonstration would make it far easier to obtain the development funding for a fully orbital spaceplane. When mature, such spaceplanes will reduce the cost of launching satellites by about one hundredfold and the cost of sending people to space by one thousandfold. Such maturity could be reached in about fifteen years.
The challenge is that all this seems too good to be true. The large government space agencies are not really interested in space tourism, and there are strong interests vested in the expendable way of doing things.
The large government space agencies are less interested in space tourism and more interested in expendable and expensive launch vehicles, which justifies their budgets.
The idea that a small start-up company can build a useful spaceplane seems incredible. But at this moment, perhaps twenty US start-ups, and others in Europe and the Far East, are vying to develop launchers, send probes to the Moon, and start space tourism. One such company now partly owns the Mir space station, and the first Mir tourist is now training for a week's visit.
With all this going on, it can only be a matter of time before there is a dramatic paradigm shift in space culture. Taxpayer-funded projects based on ballistic missile technology will give way to commercially funded projects based on aeroplane technology, with space tourism as the largest business.
The UK is well placed to play a leading role in this revolution. We have all the required industrial capability and fewer vested interests than any other major space-faring country. At present, government policy is set against launcher development and manned spaceflight, which makes it all but impossible for entrepreneurs to gain financial backing. Fortunately, this may change soon. The recent Trade and Industry Committee Inquiry into UK Space Policy , following evidence from BSP and other leading space entrepreneurs, recommends that a review be undertaken of UK participation in launcher development programmes, and also recommends that it be carried out by a body independent of the British National Space Council (BNSC).
Meanwhile, BSP has designed a demonstrator for Ascender that could be flying within two years for just £2 million. You can support this effort, and perhaps even win a place of your own on a flight into space, by joining The Ascender Project.