The British Skylon single-stage-to-orbit space plane would take off from a runway and fly on air-breathing hydrogen-fueled rocket engines for much of its ascent through the atmosphere. When the air becomes too thin, Skylon switches to onboard liquid oxygen.
The Skylon Personnel / Logistics Module (SPLM) could be installed in Skylon’s cargo bay for carrying a combination of passengers and supplies to orbital stations. If carrying passengers only, it could support up to 30 people.
From runway takeoff to an altitude of 17.4 miles (28 km), SABRE sucks in air to burn with its liquid hydrogen fuel. Once the air becomes too thin, Skylon switches to its onboard liquid oxygen tanks. This saves Skylon from having to carry more liquid oxygen than absolutely necessary.
The SABRE engine could be used in future commercial airliners capable of a cruising velocity of Mach 5 (3,806 mph, or 6,125 km/h) and a range of up to halfway around the world. This aircraft could carry 300 passengers from Brussels to Sydney in 4.6 hours.
A European Space Agency study undertaken in 2007 explored using Skylon space planes to assemble a Mars transfer vehicle in Earth orbit, for a launch opportunity in 2028. Three of the six crewmembers would land on Mars and spend about 30 days there. The entire mission would take two years and eight months.
Exobiology on Mars (ExoMars) is an ambitious mission being undertaken by the European Space Agency and its international partners. In 2016, the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Schiaparelli lander will be launched on a Russian Proton rocket. In 2018, the ExoMars rover will be launched.
TGO’s mission is to sniff Mars’ atmosphere for evidence of methane, a gas with implications for the existence of life on the Red Planet. Schiaparelli’s main purpose is to demonstrate Mars-landing technology. It is expected to survive only a few days on the surface, running off of its internal batteries. The little lander is 5.4 feet (1.65 m) in diameter and weighs just 1,323 lbs. (600 kg).
Set to be launced on a Russian Proton rocket in 2018, the golf-cart-size ExoMars rover will spend six months searching for signs of present or extict life on Mars.
The rover’s onboard biology laboratory looks for molecules indicative of life, while its 6.6-foot (2.2 m) surface drill brings up samples for analysis. A tall mast carries the panoramic camera system (PanCam) with twin lenses for stereoscopic imaging. Ground-penetrating radar looks for ice under the surface.
Inflatable Space Stations of Bigelow Aerospace (Infographic)
By Karl Tate, SPACE.com Infographics Artist | March 28, 2016 01:58pm ET
Bigelow Aerospace is designing a plug-in module to expand living space on the International Space Station. Larger expandable modules could someday become free-flying space stations themselves.
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) will be carried into orbit by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, stowed in the cargo trunk of a Dragon capsule. A robot arm will dock BEAM to Node 3 of the International Space Station.
BEAM is 13 feet long (4 meters) and 10.5 feet in diameter (3.2 m). The module weighs 3,000 pounds (1,360 kilograms)
A larger inflatable module called BA 330 is being developed for use as a stand-alone space station. Larger than the International Space Station’s existing Destiny habitation module, each BA 330 can house up to six astronauts. Bigelow plans a two-module outpost called Alpha Station which could be orbited after 2016.
The BA 330’s internal volume is 11,654 cubic feet (330 cubic meters). The length is 45 feet (13.7 m) and its diameter is 22 feet (6.7 m)
Further in the future, inflatable modules could enhance the living volumes of deep-space stations, lunar bases or even Mars expeditions.
The inflatable space station concept dates to the 1960s. Kevlar, the material used for bullet-proof vests, inspired NASA to take another look at inflatable space modules in the 1990s. NASA’s module, called Trans-Hab, never flew and was officially canceled in 2000.