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September 25, 2017

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Singapore to be commercial space flight launch site

SINGAPORE -- A French aerospace giant wants to make Singapore a launch pad for commercial space flights.

European Aeronautic Defense and Space (EADS), a leading defense and military contractor, is working on the ambitious plan, which it hopes will eventually rival British billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, which is to launch the world's first commercial space flight this year.

Hugues Laporte-Weywada, EADS senior vice-president for international sales and marketing for the Asia-Pacific region, said a detailed feasibility study was done here last year, with positive results.

First, he said, there is a readily available pool of people in the region with deep-enough pockets to pay the 200,000 euros it will cost for an hour-long ride into space.

Secondly, the infrastructure to house the planes and take-off site are available.

He would not say where in Singapore the venture would be based, but it is understood that the facilities in an airport like Changi could be used.

Laporte-Weywada was speaking on the sidelines of the Global Space & Technology Convention held here last week.

A "demonstrator" model of the space plane will first need to be designed, built and tested here over the next 1 1/2 years, using the expertise of local researchers and engineers.

EADS will pay for the building of the demonstrator model, which is estimated to cost around 4 million euros.

Of Singapore's involvement in the test phase, Bernard Nee, the Economic Development Board's executive director for industry identification and innovation, said: "We welcome and support Astrium's decision to undertake the scaled-down space plane demonstrator in Singapore, leveraging on our R & D infrastructure and aerospace capabilities."

Astrium is the space arm of EADS, which also has in its stable Airbus, the world's leading manufacturer of commercial aircraft.

Laporte-Weywada said EADS' first actual space plane would be built in Germany.

Building will begin only when a substantial order list is in place.

Singapore aside, EADS is looking to set up launch sites elsewhere.

Once airborne, the space plane would rocket into orbit, taking travelers to the edge of space 200 kilometers above earth. The hour-long ride would include 10 minutes of weightlessness.

The 300 tickets for Branson's Virgin Galactic flight have already sold out at US$200,000 each, although the date for the flight has not been fixed.

That is a fraction of the US$20 million to US$35 million charged by the United States' National Aeronautics and Space Agency and the Russian space agency for flights so far.

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