Swiss Space Systems Announces Plans for Crewed Suborbital Spacecraft

SOAR spaceplane atop an A-300. (Credit: S3)
SOAR spaceplane atop an A-300. (Credit: S3)

Le Bourget, 17 June 2013. Swiss Space Systems – S3, the fledgling Swiss aerospace company, was officially launched on 13 March this year. Its goal is to develop, manufacture, certify and operate unmanned suborbital shuttles to launch small satellites up to 250 kg by 2018.

With the development phase well under way, the firm is announcing today a new partnership – with Thales Alenia Space, a leading developer and manufacturer of pressurised modules, notably for the international space station. These partnerships will enable S3 to move ahead with the plan to launch small satellites and enter the next stage of developing a manned version of its suborbital shuttle. The latter will enable the company to offer a very high speed mode of passenger transportation.

Work is progressing to schedule

Following the official launch of the company in March, the development work is going smoothly and S3’s 40 or so employees are making rapid progress with the help of their partners and technical advisers, whose specifications have been defined and complied with. The technical data relating to the shape of the shuttle, its trajectory and the physical and thermal constraints are being validated prior to the first wind tunnel tests which will take place at the Von Karman Institute in Belgium in July. The certification process has also been initiated with participation in working sessions organised by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the body responsible for the drafting of and compliance with European aviation safety regulations.

A stronger international network of partners and advisers

To reach its goal of launching small lower-cost satellites so as to broaden access to space for companies, universities and countries that could not afford it hitherto, S3 already benefits from the valuable support of prestigious partners. The French Dassault Aviation, consultant aircraft maker for the shuttle’s systems architecture, is one of them, as are the Belgian Sonaca for the external structure, Space Application Services for the flight software and the Von Karman Institute for the wind tunnel. Other partners are the Spanish Elecnor Deimos for the navigation, the Swiss Meggitt for the sensors and Spaceport Malaysia for the ground infrastructure. The technical advisers are the European Space Agency (ESA), the Swiss Space Center to which the EPFL belongs, and Louvain (Belgium) and Stanford (USA) universities. The main sponsor is Breitling, the Swiss watchmaker.

Today Swiss Space Systems is pleased to announce the creation of another powerful partnership with Thales Alenia Space, a global aerospace major specialising in particular in the development and manufacture of pressurised modules, including the Columbus module on board the International Space Station (ISS). The latter is one of the many achievements of this company that enable humans to stay alive in space.

Passenger transportation the goal of a new stage in the S3 project

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Thales Alenia Space and Swiss Space Systems will enable the project to move ahead, so that academic clients can be offered micro-gravity and biological research applications. The collaboration that will then be initiated with the ESA Astronaut Centre will enable S3 to move on to the next stage in its development, i.e. very high speed passenger transportation, which will open the way to the transportation of the future. The satellite flight certification process will in fact enable a substantial body of knowledge to be established with respect to the development of a manned version of the SOAR suborbital shuttle. Thanks to this, and to the new skills that will have been learned from the best, S3 intends to write a new page in the history of aviation by making supersonic intercontinental travel possible. This new mode of transport will link continents at Mach 3 speed, or three times the speed of sound.

Pascal Jaussi, founder and CEO of Swiss Space Systems says : “Far from wishing to launch into the space tourism market, we want rather to establish a new mode of air travel based on our satellite launch model that will allow spaceports on different continents to be reached in an hour. Apart from Malaysia, discussions are well advanced with numerous other countries such as Morocco, Ecuador and Canada, all of which want to build the sort of infrastructure from which we will be able to operate satellite launches and later passenger transportation. The priority remains the launching of small satellites, with the development phase at the moment and then the construction of the life-size model, the goal being to carry out the first commercial launches in 2018.” Manned flights on the other hand will be offered at a later stage.

Editor’s Note: This is pretty much what I figured back in March when they announced they were going to build a system to launch smallsats. I wrote:

The budget is enormous. They’re going to spend $263 million to build a system that launches 250-kg smallsats at $10 million per flight? Does that make sense economically?

The second stage seems over designed for smallsat launches. I would think it could be a prototype for a larger system that would either fly suborbital with crew or even launch itself into orbit. You’d probably need a larger carrier aircraft.