Have you ever wondered how we can travel to different planets with hundreds of people in the same cabin in the future? Well, we need commercial space airplanes.
The General Design
The design of it is inherited from passenger planes flying in Earth’s skies and the space shuttle. It has wings like the space shuttle, and their purpose is to take off and land the aircraft safely. The wings need to be huge to absorb a lot of solar energy on their panels. The energy is so powerful that it can propel the plane at a significant fraction of the speed of light.
How to do it? Well, you will need to use some devices which can store that energy for a long time. These designs are to minimize emissions and make it more sustainable.
Jet engines won’t work for space airplanes because there is no air in space. Therefore, we can use a battery attached to a rocket engine that works like lithium-ion batteries. Also, we need to spin the engines to rotate the plane to create gravitational forces through centrifugal forces. It also has pointed noses like supersonic planes to make the flight more efficient.
Once this machine is invented, it can possibly travel to another planet with ease. There’ll be nothing to worry about fuel in long-distance traveling. It will also be capable of climbing vertically to reach space like a rocket while taking off like an airplane.
Then, how do they stop? Well, they will use heat-resistant materials to fight against friction in the atmosphere. It will also have a powerful thrust reverser that can direct all the thrust in the opposite direction. Also, it requires super-robust landing gear because it must land at high speeds, especially on Mars.
Although space is virtually a vacuum, there are particles flying there. Hitting them at high speed is not beneficial for the airframe, so the outer parts of the aircraft need to absorb a lot of energy. On the bright side, the rocket engine can also use these particles to provide extra thrust.
Also, it will have to start small, possibly carrying a few people at once. But, we could make it as large as the A380 for future high-demand routes like from Earth to Mars. Who knows? Maybe an edited version might bring the popular 747 and A380 back! It will be able to travel at such high speeds that a trip from Earth to Mars would last only a few hours.
Other than the design, we need to focus on the cabin. The seating can be like the commercial planes that fly today, but there must be some special design. Firstly, we can’t circulate air through the engines because there is no air in space.
We need to inflate the plane with oxygen before take-off and turn the carbon dioxide the people exhale into oxygen for breathing.
Then, due to the rapid spinning of the cabin, people might get dizzy. As a result, the windows need to be monitors showing a screen of nearby objects, except during take-off and landing.
Also, we need to add one safety equipment under the seat — a spacesuit. Life jackets are still useful on Earth, but we probably must wear a spacesuit during take-off and landing.
Think about it: If a plane crashes, the crew and passengers have to evacuate. Then, without a spacesuit, how can they co-exist with the harsh environment of different planets? These spacesuits must be carefully designed to make it both light and protective.
Some planets or moons have little to no atmosphere, and they need to land hard. How to cope with that? The cabin’s base has to be good at absorbing energy so that the items and passengers won’t feel the real shock.
Because of the hard landings, high-speed take-offs, and the harsh environment, space airplanes often have to be checked and repaired. For example, they might need to have a thorough checkup every 20 flights or so. Their safety is also a problem because many airplanes might crash due to the challenges or even break up mid-air.
An aircraft on Earth needs a D-check every few years, taking the whole plane apart and inspecting every detail. Maybe we need to do a more advanced check every year, which rebuilds an aircraft and give it a new serial number. Every part that didn’t pass with flying colors must be recycled or given up. And this is a problem, so we need to improve that once it works.
Airports on Earth are distinctly different from ones on other planets. Take Mars, for example. It has an air pressure only 1% that of Earth, meaning the runway has to be much longer if you only use jet engines. However, if you use rocket engines, the differences are not apparent. Their building materials must also be extremely robust to withstand the awful environment.
Furthermore, we have to solve the problem of air leaking through the door. When boarding and de-boarding, we need to open the door for a short while before a bridge can arrive. To solve this, we might need to gradually approach the plane, inform the crew, and manually open the door by force.
The cockpit won’t be like a regular plane’s because the speed is much faster. The changes will be:
- Like the cabin, the cockpit window must be a monitor to navigate the pilots.
- The airspeed indicator needs to be electronic because a clock is definitely not enough.
- The altimeter of the plane can only work on (or near) planets.
- We need to idle the engines in space unless we need to steer to save power.
Apart from that, there are still a lot we need to change only in the cockpit.
So, to design an airplane to go to space, it needs to change its properties fundamentally.
In this article, we’ve talked about the essential elements of commercial space airplanes. We’ve also discussed changes that must be made for the invention, and the simple structure of the aircraft. Do you want to be on that aircraft? If there’s any flaws in the design, feel free to leave that in the comments.