Need for speed

Need for speed

The Antipode gives fresh impetus to the race to the edge of space.

The industrial designer Charles Bombardier has proposed a concept 10-seater aircraft named the Antipode which could fly from New York to London in 11 minutes, and reach Dubai in 11 minutes more. The implications are simply shocking: No services on board. Not even a pre-mixed cappuccino. Maybe no loo access either. Anyway, at Mach 24 or thereabouts, who would have the courage to go to the loo?

Bombardier has upped the ante in the edge-of-space race, which has been developing over the last few years. It was kicked off by organisations like XCOR Aerospace in the Mojave desert and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which are offering space tourism

to a new but enthusiastic market — they will take passengers up to the edge of space, high enough to experience weightlessness in level flight. Since drag decreases at higher altitudes, their craft will be much faster than commercial flights. However, the excitement was about experiencing space. The brevity of flights was regarded as a by-product. Now, the rocket-assisted Antipode refocuses attention on speed rather than the novelty of weightlessness.

Last year, Bombardier had proposed the Skreemr, a scramjet launched from a railgun. Carrying 75 passengers, it could theoretically cruise at Mach 10. As an indication of scale, the Concorde used to be quite happy to cruise at Mach 2.02. The Antipode and the Skreemr are concept craft. Materials and airframes that can withstand the forces at play at very high speeds are yet unavailable. And passengers and crew may want to think twice before exposing themselves to the G-forces of take-off and landing. And then, there’s the small matter of comfort. Passengers can do without services on quick journeys, but the question of the toilet remains, and is sometimes non-negotiable.