Go high enough in the atmosphere, and eventually you'll reach space. That is assuming a vehicle can, somehow, carry itself there--as the atmosphere thins, traditional flight becomes difficult and then impossible. Getting to space takes a rocket, sometimes carried by an airplane, like Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, which blasts off from the underbelly of its White Knight Two transport--or it takes a rocket launch from a platform on the ground. A state-backed firm in China wants to get rid of all the extra parts, instead completing the entire process with one rocket-powered spaceplane that takes off like a rocket, and returns to earth like a shuttle.
New Scientist reports:
"The vehicle will take off vertically like a rocket and land on the runway automatically without any ground or on-board intervention," [China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology team leader Han Pengxin] says. It will burn liquid methane and liquid oxygen. Han's team has designed two versions of their rocket plane.