The Concept

The XANADU spacecraft concept would be designed to carry thousands of passengers to and from low-earth orbit. It would allow a new generation of astronauts  to conduct experiments, visit space-based hotels like the Aurora Space Station, or hop on spacecraft to travel into the solar system.

Origin of the Idea

A month ago, an aerospace designer named David Luther contacted me to work on the design of new single-stage-to-orbit concept aircraft. His idea included a launch cradle vehicle, and it was clear that David and his team at Exodus Aerospace had invested a lot of time on their new design and learned a lot from existing projects.

I started exchanging ideas with David and later asked industrial Designer Martin Rojtenberg to help us create an initial 3D Model, which we called Xanadu. Our goal is to collect feedback to improve the design and its specifications over a series of open exchanges.

How It Works

The Xanadu is divided into three structures: a ground-based launching system (not shown yet), a first-stage vehicle built to reach escape velocity, and an orbiter designed to ferry people to low-earth orbit and glide back down to earth.

A specially-designed autonomous wheeled vehicle will be created to launch the Xanadu into the air. This 200-foot-long electric launcher will be designed to accelerate the Xanadu to a speed of 250 miles/hr in less than 60 seconds using in-wheel motors. This will allow Xanadu operators to use existing runways, eliminating the need to finance and build complicated new infrastructure and expanding the aircraft’s reach.

During the take-off maneuver, the launcher hydraulics will raise the Xanadu to an angle of 20 degrees to generate a vortex to aid liftoff. The launcher will also shield against runway debris that could damage the airframe or enter the engine inlets. 2/3 of the way down runway, the Xanadu’s first-stage flight AI will increase the throttle on the rocket engines to help the Xanadu take off.

At supersonic speed, the first stage will ignite four ramjet engines, generating a total thrust of a quarter of a million pounds. The Xanadu will continue accelerating and ascending for 10 minutes to reach a target speed of 5,000 mph.

Above 50 miles, the orbiter will be released and the first stage will fly back to land at the airport of origin. The first stage of the Xanadu will have a single nose gear and two main landing skids to save mass (not shown).

The Xanadu’s orbiter will then power up its aerospike engines. These engines will make it possible to reach orbital velocity and venture into black space. Multiple thrusters located on the fuselage will be used to make course corrections in space and dock on orbital stations.

To land back on earth, the orbiter will use ground effect and thrusters to complete a cushioned landing on three skids that will deploy from under it’s fuselage (not shown yet). This is a hybrid of conventional aircraft landing and vertical landing that uses aerodynamic lift to greater advantage. Landing the vehicle low and flat is much safer than landing on a small-tail tripod. 

The Advantages of the Xanadu Concept

By moving the orbiter to the front, its wing area will add to the booster wing area to produce more lift during takeoff. This will allow the booster’s wing area to shrink, saving mass there.

The orbiter also becomes a nose cone to the first stage instead of increasing frontal area. By using a blended wing body form, the design gains the efficiency of a lifting fuselage as per the concepts of Vincent Burnelli. The blended wing bodies also improve internal volume and structural strength.

Furthermore, if there is a problem, the Xanadu could separate itself in two, to rescue the payload and crew, which will reduce risk (and insurance rates). Both parts could be reused in normal flights, saving cost compared to throw-away systems.

What It’s Used For

The Xanadu would ferry people and material to space stations in low-earth orbit. It would mostly be engineered to transport working crews, space tourists, and business people. Since we are going to build infrastructure on the Moon and Mars, we will need reliable and affordable launching systems to low-earth orbit, and the reusable Xanadu could become one of the most economical solution.

Special Thanks

I would like to thank David Luther and his team at Exodus Aerospace for collaborating with us on this concept. If you are interested, you can contact David directly to learn about the latest developments. I would also like to thank Martin Rojtenberg who created all the images of the Xanadu space plane concept. Martin lives near Buenos Aires, Argentina. He studied Design at the University of Buenos Aires and now works as a Freelance Industrial Designer.