Radian Aerospace may have found the “holy grail” of space travel after unveiling plans to build a fully reusable space plane that can take off from and land on a runway like an airplane. Named Radian One, this spacecraft could completely revolutionize air travel — both in space and around the world.
The science and other stuff to know
Radian One is an ambitious one-stage spacecraft. Unlike NASA’s old space shuttle orbiter — which landed horizontally but lifted off vertically with the help of rocket boosters — this space vehicle is designed to launch and land horizontally on a runway, according to its specification page.
Designed to accommodate a five-person crew and over 2,200 kg (5,000 lbs) cargo, Radian One will launch horizontally on top of a rocket-powered sled. The purpose of the sled will be to accelerate the spacecraft down the runway before it detaches and takes off. Then, after completing its mission in space, which could last up to five days, it’ll fly back and land horizontally on a runway as airplanes do.
A rapid turnaround will also be part of the mission. The company aims to eventually refly the plane as soon as 48 hours after landing.
No one has ever built a single-stage spacecraft before. If Radian can pull it off, it’d likely significantly cut spaceflight costs. This development will also open new opportunities for off-world research, manufacturing, exploration, and more.
“We believe that widespread access to space means limitless opportunities for humankind,” Radian CEO and co-founder Richard Humphrey explains and adds, “Over time, we intend to make space travel nearly as simple and convenient as airliner travel. We are not focused on tourism. We’re dedicated to missions that make life better on our planet, like research, in-space manufacturing, and terrestrial observation.”
Radian also hopes to use the space plane for critical missions like rapid global delivery here on Earth. Ideally, Radian One will be closely similar to this plane that can travel at the speed of sound.
Radian One needs much more work and funding to get off the ground. While it hasn’t revealed a specific budget, experts predict it’ll cost over $1 billion to develop the spacecraft. In an interview with Ars Technica, Radian CEO revealed that they hope to launch Radian One before 2030. The firm also expects the market for space planes, once complete, to reach $200 billion, with the technology slowly maturing.