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Skylon: commercial space ‘aircraft’ available in Britain ‘within 10 years’

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Skylon is an unpiloted, reusable spaceplane intended to provide inexpensive and reliable access to space: Skylon: commerical space 'aircraft' available in Britain 'within 10 years' Skylon is an unpiloted, reusable spaceplane intended to provide inexpensive and reliable access to space Photo: REACTION ENGINES

Engineers have developed the new £700 million “Skylon spaceplane”, which can travel at more than five times the speed of sound.

Costing about £6.3 million per flight the 270 foot-long craft can carry up to 24 passengers into space. It could be available for commercial use within a decade.

The unpiloted craft, which can take off from an airport runway, has no external rockets and two engines use hydrogen and oxygen to propel it more than 18 miles into space.

Officials from the UK Space Agency believe it can revolutionise space travel and significantly cut its cost by taking advantage of newly developed technology.

They say it could one day replace Nasa’s Space Shuttle to transport up to 12 tonnes of cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station.

Reports have suggested that developing the craft will eventually cost about £7.5 billion, the same amount it costs to develop an Airbus jet.

The craft has been developed by the Oxfordshire-based Reaction Engines with support from the new space agency.

Richard Varvill, technical director and one of the founders of Reaction Engines, believes his company’s craft will revolutionise space travel.

“Access to space is extraordinarily expensive, yet there’s no law of physics that says it has to be that way,” he told The Engineer magazine.

“We just need to prove it’s viable. The simple truth is that the Earth is part of a much bigger system.

“We’re talking a bit of science fiction now, but in theory there’s nothing that stops you going out (into space).”

He added: “You can imagine a situation when some of our industrially important but polluting processes are done in space and the finished products are brought back down to Earth.”

Officials will meet next week at a special two-day workshop next week, which will investigate how it can be developed commercially.

Reaction Engines said it will take 10 years to develop, leaving Britain to become the first country in the world to launch a spaceplane in orbit.

A commercial spaceplane has remained a near near-impossible dream to some of the best engineers in the world.

The European Space Agency (ESA), the Russian Federal Space Agency (RKA) and Nasa have each poured billions of pounds into such a craft without success.

Tarantulas on the loose in Britain

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The rare arachnids, capable of blinding people by spitting hairs in their eyes, were both found in back gardens within two miles of each other.

Both spiders are the same age, breed and gender.

Experts said it suggested they could be part of a larger batch. The slow-moving large spiders from South America are a popular breed among collectors.

Lisa Broad, 20, found the first spider in her garden on the Oldhams Estate in Sharples.

She called the RSPCA, who re-homed the creature, named Fang, at Smithills Open Farm.

Three-and-a-half weeks later another woman from Lostock discovered another tarantula, which was sitting on her garden wall.

The woman, who did not want to be named, eventually trapped it under a plant pot on her path and alerted the RSPCA.

Derek Hampson, an inspector for the animal welfare charity, said: “We advised her to keep it under the plant pot until we arrived. They can quite happily go a week without food, so it was quite content.

“It got a bit aggressive when I picked it up. I wore safety goggles as these creatures can spit hairs which can blind you.

“It is possible there could be more out there, but unfortunately we havent got the resources to search for them.”

He added: “It is up to members of the public to call us if they spot any.”

Mr Hampson took the female, which is known to kill the male after mating, to Bugworld in Liverpool.

Jenny Dobson, the Bugworld curator, said: “It is rare for one of these to come in and we saw… there had been another with the same characteristics found outdoors.

“It is likely they came from the same place.

“It would be too much of a coincidence otherwise for two breakouts and they cant survive in the wild for long with the UK climate.

Britain hit by wintry weather on St Swithin’s Day

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Waves batter the Cobb at Lyme Regis.Photo: RICHARD AUSTIN

Thousands of holidaymakers were forced to swap sandals and shorts for wellies and raincoats after wintry weather hit much of the country.

Unseasonably strong winds battered beaches while some areas experience more than an inch of rain, potentially spelling doom for the rest of the summer.

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Legend suggests if it rains on St Swithin’s Day it will lead to downpours for the next 40 days, potentially ruining the rest of July and August.

According to the ninth century tale, after the remains of St Swithin, a Saxon bishop, were removed his preferred burial place outside Winchester Cathedral, it led to 40 days of continuous rain and storms.

Since then the story has become one of Britain’s most enduring folklores and causes many to keep a watchful eye on the weather every year on July 15.

Forecasters said that between 25mm to 33mm of rain fell on Thursday.

Areas around St Andrews, where the British Open is currently being played, had more 29 mm of rain while Kinross, Scotland had 33 mm.

More than 13 mm fell throughout the South-west, including Devon and Cornwall and south Wales.

Barry Gromett, a Met Office, warned that more rain was expected in those areas as the bad weather intensified.

He also said that while he could not give an accurate forecast over the coming weeks, it did not appear that it would repeat last summer’s wintry weather after it also rained on July 15.

“It will remain unsettled over the next five days, but then the weather looks like it will become more settled again in the South,” he said.

While it is good news for gardeners, those hoping to catch some rays over the weekend are likely to be disappointed with wet spells also forecast for Saturday and Sunday.

“Saturday looks like it will be the best day of the weekend.

“It should be good weather on Monday morning but then it looks like rain on Monday afternoon and Tuesday.”

The wild weather also hit parts of Asia on Thursday.

Heavy rains and powerful winds battered East Asia, forcing authorities to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people from their homes in Japan.

China was left facing the worst floods in more than a decade as rains drenched the Yangtze river region and a typhoon neared the southern coast.

In the Philippines, power was gradually restored to millions of homes in and around Manila after Typhoon Conson hit the capital harder than expected on Tuesday night.

Officials raised the death toll in the Philippines to 37, with 42 missing.

Tropical Storm Risk downgraded the typhoon to a tropical storm on Thursday, but the Philippines’ weather bureau said it was expected to regain strength as it moved over the South China Sea and headed towards southern China and northern Vietnam.

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