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S'pore to test 'space plane'
Publication Date : 14-02-2014
A made-in-Singapore prototype of a space plane, which can take travellers to the edge of space 100km above earth, will take off for its maiden test flights in May.
The tests will mark a milestone for home-grown defence contractor Hope Technik, which signed a deal with French aerospace giant Airbus Defence and Space at the previous Singapore Airshow two years ago.
Hope, which beat bigger local rivals to land the multimillion-dollar deal, is supposed to design, build and launch a space plane prototype, as well as run it through tests.
The May flights are part of a series of tests to assess the model plane's aviation electronics, aerodynamics and glide capability.
To be held in the South China Sea, the flights will require a helicopter to lift the prototype about 4km off the surface and release it in mid-air to see how it glides over the sea.
Over the week-long trial, flight data will be collected and analysed for adjustments needed before the model is tested at a higher altitude of 30km above sea level in trials next year.
The final version of the space plane is supposed to rocket at supersonic speeds into orbit beyond the height that commercial planes fly.
To get the prototype ready for its debut, Hope's more than 50 engineers and researchers have gone down to the "littlest of details", said its co-founder and technical manager, Peter Ho.
"Every part of the plane is measured, weighed and tested to ensure that we meet the magic number or quantity so that the plane can move and fly," he said.
For instance, the 5m by 4m demonstrator plane, a quarter the size of the real space plane, has to weigh below 150kg, said Airbus manager Christophe Chavagnac.
"No more or less...or else the plane will not be stable in the air," said Chavagnac, also chief engineer for space plane programmes at Airbus.
"Its not just a matter of signing a contract. They followed through whatever we discussed and were committed like us to make sure the plane flies," he said of Airbus' first experience working with a Singapore small and medium-sized enterprise (SME).
Over the next three months, the prototype will be wired up with high-tech gadgets and cameras to prepare for its May debut.
But Hope's space involvement may go beyond the test flights and prototype.
Chavagnac said there are possible plans to work with the Singapore team to further develop the real space plane, expected to fly its first commercial flight into space with four passengers within the next 10 years.
But Ho has his feet on the ground for now.
He said: "Right now, our goal is to make sure the plane not just flies, but flies well."