About Bristol Spaceplanes Limited
Bristol Spaceplanes has been an industry leader in spaceplane design for nearly twenty years. Our clients include the European Space Agency (ESA), and our work has been used to further NASA studies on reusable launch vehicles and space tourism. BSP has also received feasibility study contracts from ESA and the UK Department of Trade and Industry.

Bristol Spaceplanes (BSP) was formed in 1991 to realise low-cost access to space by exploiting the decades of spaceplane design experience of its founders. Since then it has created plans for the Ascender sub-orbital spaceplane, designed in-house from off-the-shelf technology.

BSP has evolved a step-by-step development strategy leading from Ascender to orbital spaceflight; this strategy includes the BSP-designed Spacecab orbital spaceplane. Spacecab has features aimed at low development cost and risk, and is a candidate to be the first fully reusable vehicle capable of reaching orbit. More importantly, Spacecab would trigger a new space age of low-cost access to space. Our internal studies show that Spacecab and follow-on vehicles would enable the cost of the first lunar base to be reduced by a factor of ten, compared with present plans using large new expendable launchers.

  • 1993, BSP received a contract from ESA for a feasibility study of the Spacecab orbital spaceplane that showed new technology was not required. The development cost of an operational prototype was estimated at two billion dollars. A subsequent independent review commissioned by the then Minister for Space, Ian Taylor, and managed by BNSC, broadly endorsed these conclusions.
  • In 1998, BSP successfully flew a large radio-controlled model of Ascender.
  • 2000, managing director David Ashford was invited to testify to the UK parliament Trade & Industry Select Committee inquiry into UK space policy, and his evidence was the basis for some of the key recommendations.
  • 2001, BSP carried out a study for a major global engineering company on the prospects for its potential space business.
  • 2003, BSP received a grant from the UK Department of Trade and Industry to help fund a feasibility study of the then latest version of the Ascender sub-orbital Spaceplane.
  • 2008, BSP started bench-testing the rocket engine for Ascender.
  • 2010, Ashford was team leader for a technology roadmap for a small UK satellite launcher. This work was sponsored by the UK Space Agency and helped spaceplanes to gain a positive mention in ‘A National Space Technology Strategy for the UK’.
  • 2011, BSP received a feasibility study grant from the Technology Strategy Board to carry out market research on our spaceplane projects. Fourteen UK aerospace companies were consulted, who all broadly endorsed our designs and strategy.
  • 2013, BSP carried out a study for the UK space agency and produced a report ‘The Business Case for a UK Spaceplane Based on Heritage Technology’.

In parallel with the engineering development of Ascender, BSP has carried out a publicity campaign that has led to numerous appearances on national and international radio, TV, the printed press, and exhibitions including the Millennium Dome. To date, there have been final-year student projects related to Ascender at five universities.

BSP has been influential in bringing low-cost access to space and space tourism from a long-term vision to a serious short-term prospect.


David Ashford, Managing Director

David Ashford is the managing director of Bristol Spaceplanes Limited. He graduated from Imperial College, University of London, in aeronautical engineering and spent one year at Princeton doing postgraduate research on rocket motor combustion instability. Ashford worked on the European Aerospace Transporter (spaceplane) studies in the early 1960s with the Hawker Siddeley Aviation Advanced Projects Group before working as an aerodynamicist/project engineer/project manager on the DC-8, DC-10, Concorde, the Skylark Sounding Rocket, and several missile and electronic warfare systems.

Ashford’s first paper on spaceplanes, ‘Boost Glide Vehicles for Long Range Transport’, was published in the Journal of the Royal Aeronautical Society in July 1965. Since then he has authored a large number of books and papers on the subject.

He co-wrote the first serious book on space tourism, Your Spaceflight Manual – How You Could be a Tourist in Space Within Twenty Years (Headline, 1990) with Dr. Patrick Collins. This book was the first reference in the joint NASA/Space Transportation Association report ‘General Public Space Travel and Tourism’, 1998, which had positive conclusions.

His second book, Spaceflight Revolution, was published by Imperial College Press in 2002. This book describes the historical, technical, commercial, and political backgrounds to the case for an imminent transformation of spaceflight. It has been well reviewed in technical journals and was nominated for the 2003 Eugene M. Emme Astronautical Literature Award, which is presented by the American Astronautical Society.

His most recent book, Space Exploration: All That Matters was published by Hodder in July 2013 and by McGraw-Hill in November. This is an update of his previous book aimed at a non-technical readership. [Press Release]

Ashford has addressed numerous conferences, usually as an invited speaker, including those organised by ESA, the International Astronautics Federation, the U.S. Institute of Electrical & Electronic Engineers, the International Space University, the British Interplanetary Society, the Royal Aeronautical Society, the Institute of Incorporated Engineers, the Society of Engineers and the UK Students for the Exploration & Development of Space.