Travel to Australian from the U.S. or Europe is currently quite a long ordeal, but in the future, a hypersonic "SpaceLiner" could whisk up to 50 passengers from Europe to Australia in just 90 minutes. The futuristic vehicle would accomplish this by riding a rocket into Earth's upper atmosphere, reaching 24 times the speed of sound before gliding back in to make a landing.
Martin Sippel, project coordinator for SpaceLiner at the German Aerospace Center, suggests that the project could make enough progress to begin attracting private funding in another decade, and aim for full operations by 2050.
Currently, the concept includes a rocket booster stage for launch and a separate orbiter stage to carry passengers halfway around the world without ever making it to space. Flying from the U.S. to Europe could take just under an hour if the SpaceLiner is successful.
Unfortunately, the downside to the high speed travel is going to be the cost, which will likely be prohibitive to all but the world's richest people.
Significant challenges still remain, including finding the right shape for the vehicle that will be able to withstand the intense heat that is created when travelling at such high speeds through the upper atmosphere.
Launching a rocket rather than taking off like traditional aircraft will also pose some challenges. Because of the nature of its takeoff, SpaceLiner would be restricted to suitable launch sites with uninhabited areas down range. It would also need a careful flight path during its final landing approach because the sonic boom that comes along with aircraft travelling faster than the speed of sound can damage buildings on the ground at low altitudes.