While SpaceX is making news with its recoverable rockets, China announced that it is working on the next big thing in spaceflight: a hypersonic spaceplane.
The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation is beginning advanced research on a high tech, more efficient successor to the retired Space Shuttle, with hybrid combined cycle engines that can takeoff from an airport’s landing strip and fly straight into orbit. The hybrid space plane’s combined cycle engines would use turbofan or turbojet engines to takeoff horizontally from a landing strip. Once airborne, the engine then shifts to ramjet propulsion and, as speed increases, adjusts into a scramjet engine with supersonic airflow. At the scramjet stage, the hybrid spaceplane would enter hypersonic flight in ‘near space’, the part of the atmosphere between 20km to 100km above sea level. Finally, the hybrid spaceplane would use its rocket motors to push out of near space and into orbit.
Broadcasts by both state television broadcaster CCTV, and its English service, note that the CASTC spaceplane’s easy reusability would exponentially bring down space launch costs.