Rocketplane’s Chuck Lauer Resurfaces in European Commercial Suborbital Project

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While I’ve been out here at Space Access ’11, I was curious about the whereabouts of Chuck Lauer, late of the dearly departed Rocketplane Global and a fixture at these annual gatherings. This morning I found out: he’s 9 time zones away in Holland, announcing another suborbital spaceflight venture. The vehicle looks and sounds a lot like Rocketplane’s project and will fly from a new Dutch spaceport.

I’ve combined two press releases from the International Space Transportation Association describing SpaceLinq and plans for EU Spaceport Lelystad.

ISTA PR – AMSTERDAM REGION LELYSTAD, April 8, 2011 – Today, Dutch initiative SpaceLinq announces that it will operate as Europe’s first spaceflight operator from within Holland’s territory. Lelystad Airport is the proposed home base for the future EU Spaceport Lelystad, as long as all regulation and approval from the government and Airport partners will be granted. It also requires investigating planning, environmental and safety issues.

“Nonetheless, we are very excited about the opportunities to service the EU spaceflight market from Lelystad”, says Chuck Lauer, US co-founder of SpaceLinq. “We choose Lelystad for its location next to the sea and close proximity to the North Sea military reserve airspace. Besides, the open space and available land, plus the desire of the community to encourage new technology and industry are other reasons to choose Lelystad as SpaceLinq`s domicile. Also important to choose Holland is the fact that the European spaceflight market may be the largest in the world, and the Amsterdam region is already one of the greatest tourist destinations on the planet.”

Flights can be expected to take place as soon as June 2015.

Space: the next commercial frontier

The changing landscape of the space arena is giving birth to privately funded initiatives around the globe. SpaceLinq NV, Europe’s first spaceliner to propose operating spaceflights from within European airspace, has chosen the Lelystad Airport as its future base for flight operations. With a unique mission profile and vehicle architecture, SpaceLinq is able to launch and re-enter the atmosphere from almost every standard, commercial airport. The privatization trend in the US is catching on in Europe and other regions. With new government cutbacks being announced daily, the focus and demand of spaceflight services has shifted to the private sector market.

SpaceLinq will provide short and long-term benefits to the scientific community as well as the tourist and payload markets. By selling flights to the nearby Dutch and German space organizations, SpaceLinq will capture the market demand for less expensive and more frequent opportunities for microgravity research, astronomy, climate research, and small satellite launch. The European Space Agency is also interested in the potential use for commercial suborbital vehicles for microgravity research, Earth observation & remote sensing applications, astronomy, and small satellite launch. SpaceLinq submitted its plans for suborbital flight services to ESA under its Request for Information solicitation in February.

The SpaceLinq spaceliner vehicle will seat one pilot plus five customers when flying space tourism flights. For research purposes the four rear seats are removed and replaced with experiment racks or other payloads, while leaving the front right seat in place for payload operators or researchers to fly and operate their experiments. The spaceplane will use turbojet engines for takeoff and landing and a liquid oxygen / kerosene main rocket engine to power the ascent to space and over three minutes of weightlessness as the vehicle coasts up to the 100 km+ peak altitude and back. Its technical development has brought the design to a level of maturity that reassures investor confidence to see the vehicle through, all the way to the final testing stage.

“We are very excited about the opportunities to service the EU spaceflight market from Lelystad” Lauer said. “We choose Lelystad for its location next to the sea and close proximity to the North Sea military reserve airspace. Besides, the open space and available land, plus the desire of the community to encourage new technology and industry are other reasons to choose Lelystad as SpaceLinq’s domicile. Also important to choose Holland is the fact that the European spaceflight market may be the largest in the world, and the Amsterdam region is already one of the greatest tourist destinations on the planet, with great hotels, museums, fine dining and numerous cultural events and attractions. Combining this incredible base of existing Five Star tourism infrastructure with the new opportunities for exciting and breathtakingly beautiful commercial spaceflight will be a winning formula.”

To begin the process, the Spaceport Development Working Group (SDWG) will be investigating planning, environmental and safety issues, as well as economic benefits for the entire Lelystad region. The first results are due to be expected in six months time. The SDWG intends to hold several workshops and public forums for all interested parties at that time.

SDWG is currently being composed of public and private entities, including the Municipality of Lelystad, the Lelystad Airport, the Schiphol Group, OMALA Development Group, the European Space Agency, the US engineering firm Reynolds Smith & Hill (specialists in spaceport engineering and environmental analysis), SpaceLinq NV, and ISTA. The SDWG is seeking cooperation with the Dutch government, and the nearby space tech laboratories as well as proximal technical Universities, like TU Delft, the Hogeschool van Amsterdam, and the Leiden University International Institute of Air & Space Law.

SpaceLinq plans to jointly operate a carbon neutral facility with both the spaceport and spaceliner drawing green energy from local wind turbine farms. RS&H, an American engineering firm, is negotiating the possibility to perform a technical and environmental study of the airport and surrounding areas. Alongside this, ISTA is surveying the economic and political impact of this spaceport concept.

“The development of the space industry for commercial and scientific purposes is booming”, says the Mayor of Lelystad, Mrs. Margreet Horselenberg. “It is a vast capitally based industry. For the city of Lelystad it offers a great opportunity to participate in the realization of space related activities. Together with the financial support of private investors the city of Lelystad can facilitate the plans to make Lelystad Airport a front runner in a global network of spaceports. Lelystad is proud that it could become the host community for this new enterprise, and we look forward to seeing the results of the Spaceport Development Working Group.”

According to Erik Lagerweij, Managing Director of Lelystad Airport for The Schiphol Group “Lelystad Airport is the ideal place for this new category of aerospace flight operations. Here, there is room for business to expand, and flight corridors can be routed out over the North Sea so that there are no noise or environmental issues associated with the operation of suborbital spaceplanes. Ultimately, this new class of aerospace vehicles can grow in capability to be able to link anywhere in the world in a few hours. The Amsterdam Region can become the future EU hub for commercial spaceflight of all kinds.”

“Today we embark on the start of long journey”, says Ronald Heister, director-general of ISTA. “Just as our Dutch ancestors did four centuries ago, when they built new ships and sailed over the horizon to establish commercial links and trade routes to the East and West Indies. We know, this new journey will take years to complete, and the outcome is not certain. However, the prospects for new commerce, high technology job creation, and the development of a whole new class of space industries and space tourism in the heart of Europe, are compelling.”

“It’s a blank slate”, says Lauer. “A real frontier for entrepreneurs, because a standard business model does not yet exist. On the legal side, national and international laws which govern commercial space activities are only now beginning to take shape. It’s the culmination of state-of-the-art technology, forward-thinking policy and cutting-edge business. You can’t innovate without risk. These are pioneers – people and organisations who are ready to test their limits.”

About commercial space flight

Yet in 1865 Jules Verne described a fantastic space journey of three persons in his novel “From the Earth to the Moon”. In those days not a space flight, but an air flight was something unconceivable for most people. Turning the 20th century, Verne’s visionary ideas inspired humankind to send its first representative into outer space. The innovation appearing with the development of air & space navigation has shaped the World, as we know it today. Commercial space navigation will be plenty supported by innovations which will impact positive living of people all over the World. Nowadays we are witnessing the start of new transportation means, and through the 21st century space commercial flight will become as usual as it is air flight today.

The 20th century gave birth to the space age and our century will become the period of maturation of commercial space navigation. The space industry is growing rapidly also thanks to the vision of talented businessmen. At this moment, commercial spaceports, training centers and space vehicles are being developed and built in many points of the World, what is leading to a continuous increase of the number of stakeholders in the commercial space industry.

About the International Space Transport Association (ISTA)

The need to develop, market and promote commercial spaceflight, science innovations and payload is evident. It should not be restricted to increasing awareness for future space consumers, but it should also be targeted in getting the attention of private investors and agencies whose business require a solid growth of a sustainable world and space industry. A whole new sector is emerging and evolving around spaceflight, space training, space cargo, space hotels and many other activities: The space economy.

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