This week sees the launch of the "Islandia Express" passenger service using the first production model of Vosper-Babbage's "Void Skimmer" passenger shuttle. Capable of making the Earth-Islandia run in less than 5 hours it is hailed as a major speed breakthrough that makes Earth-L4 travel as fast as intercontinental travel on Earth. Four times as fast as existing Earth-Lunar shuttles the service caters for the premium end of the burgeoning mass transit market between Earth orbit, Lunar orbit and L4.
Our reporter joined the chairman of both Vosper Babbage and Islandia Space Lines on its maiden voyage from Islandia in L4 to Von Braun station in low-Earth-orbit.
Islandia Space Lines: "With the Olympus project well underway the expected growth in demand for rapid transit between Earth, Lunar and L4 is huge. Providing our customers with what they want before anyone else reinforces our position as the premier passenger carrier in Trans-Lunar space. We also take the comfort and safety of our passengers very seriously indeed as you can see from the generously appointed interior."
Vosper Babbage: "The Void Skimmer was a concept craft we had on the drawing board for the military market. When we were approached by ISL about an express passenger shuttle the synergy was obvious. Our close location to Islandia meant that we could closely collaborate in person at all stages of development leading to a much better final product. We are already working together to design the second generation of rapid transit shuttles."
The voyage itself is something of an eye-opener. On existing shuttles there is the gentle pull of micro-gravity. On the Islandia Express you are pinned to your seat! Acceleration approaches Earth standard gravity during the trip and it goes on for hours at a time which takes some getting used to.
Time is money, and this is reflected in the ticket prices. A first class seat costs $2000 and a standard seat costs $1000, many times as much as existing shuttles. Industry watchers say prices will drop sharply once competitors enter the market.
Detractors point to the expensive fuel load, high running costs & the infrastructure required compared to existing shuttles. One shuttle operator commented that "This is a charter for the big carriers to edge out the smaller independent carriers."
Preservationist groups have also criticised the new shuttle: "Existing shuttles use easily refined water from captured ice asteroids. Thousands of tons of Lunar surface have to be excavated for every ton of nuclear pellets that these craft require. How is this a step forward?"
It has also come under some criticism from Tennin groups and permanent off-worlders due to its high acceleration "The acceleration that these craft undergo could cause serious health problems or worse in many long term off-worlders. For Islandia residents and first time spacers this isn't an issue. Potentially this makes it a niche market service that will not threaten existing operators or achieve mainstream success."
From the drive bell dominating the rear of the craft and with every spare inch of hull covered in radiator panels it is obvious to look at that this craft means business. The hull material also says speed as it is made of Nanocomposite which is more commonly seen on military vessels. Other than that the dimensions are similar in dimensions to standard passenger shuttles. A standard cylindrical design, approximately 36 feet long by 18 feet in diameter.
Inside the craft says luxury, with a large first class section and a high standard of fittings throughout. With twin airlocks and generous backup power the craft significantly exceeds the latest safety standards.
Design: 36ft long x 18ft diameter cylinder (18.7 spaces, Nanocomposite, Light frame), cDr/cPF 1/1 FSB (Nanocomposite armor, 9mm thick); Hull Radiators: 2.25 ksf, No Radiator Wings.
Modules: New Cockpit, 4.5 High Thrust Fusion Pulse Drive, 3 Ultralight fuel tank (Nuclear Pellets), 4.5 standard seating (72 seats), 4 roomy seating* (32 seats), 2 small airlocks, 0.1 battery, no cargo, 1.5 spare spaces.
Statistics: LMass 89, CMass 71, Dry Mass 53, EMass 42, Payload mass 10.7, Fuel Mass 36, Cost M$ 9.5, cHP 19, Size Modifier [hull] 5/3, Maintenance interval 13 hours (7.4 hours per day)
Performance: Realistic sAccel 0.51 G, Loaded sAccel 0.40 G, Dry sAccel 0.68 G, Empty sAccel 0.85 G, Burn Endurance 4 hours 10 minutes, Burn Points 7600, Realistic DeltaV (with turnover) 23 mps
Payload: Crew 6, First Class Passengers 32, Standard passengers 68, Cargo 0 tons, Provisions 21 man days
Crew: Pilot, First Officer, 4 Stewards.
Trip Data: Earth Orbit to Lunar/L4/L5, Duration 300 minutes (5 hours), Costs: Fuel K$ 18, Provisions $ 1250
Economics: Assumes 2 trips per day, 700 trips per year. Breakeven with 90% passenger load approximately $180 per standard passenger and double that for first class passengers. Suggested ticket price $250 per standard passenger and $500 per first class passenger.
* roomy seating is simply 8 seats in the same space as the 16 of the normal seating module and half the other stats.
Transhuman Space Index