European aerospace company EADS is starting mass production of orbital aircraft in anticipation of an expected boom in space tourism.
Astrium, EADS' rocket division, is planning a craft that would take four passengers 100km up into orbit, and believes that 15,000 people a year will be willing to pay £160,000 for the privilege.
The aircraft will use jet engines to fly to 12,000ft then use a disposable rocket booster for 80 seconds to hit 100km.
After three minutes of weightlessness the aircraft will return to Earth and land at one of up to 10 worldwide "spaceports".
"In Europe, I'd say the most likely location is around the Mediterranean because there are blue skies most of the time, and from 100km you can see mountains, the sea and the coast," Robert Laine, chief technical officer at Astrium, told BBC News.
Laine was speaking at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, where he was delivering the 99th Kelvin Lecture.
Astrium plans to produce 10 planes a year, each with a 10-year lifespan, but will not run the craft itself. The firm hopes to sell them to companies such as Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic which has a deal with Nasa to develop aircraft.
There is growing recognition that space travel is a viable business, and the US government has already issued a 123-page report on recommendations for space travel tourism.
The number of flights projected is alarming some environmentalists, however, since fuel makes up 50 per cent of the weight of each flight.
"Today we don't know how to go to space cheaply. Being able to climb on a regular basis to 100km will give us the motivation to develop a plane that goes not just up and down to the same place, but from here to the other side of the Earth," said Laine.
"When the Ariane 5 takes off, 15 minutes later it is over Europe and 45 minutes later it is over the Pacific. The fastest way is to go outside the atmosphere and that will be the future."
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