UK Invests in Futuristic Space Plane Engine

spaceplane

The UK Space Agency will invest £60 million in a radical new engine designed for the Skylon, an aircraft that will be able to fly to outer space in just 15 minutes and could take passengers anywhere in the world in just four and a half hours.

The investment will be given to the British aerospace firm Reaction Engines to aid them in developing Skylon’s revolutionary Sabre; a hybrid jet-rocket engine that can run at a higher power than what is possible today. It is expected that this project could pave the way for cheaper space travel.

“Sabre has the potential to completely transform how we access space,” said David Willets, the Minister for Universities and Science. “By supporting this breakthrough technology we are giving the UK a leading position in a growing market of new generation launchers and removing one of the main barriers to the growth of commercial activity in space.”

The Sabre engine can operate both in an air-breathing and a rocket mode. In the air-breathing mode, the Skylon can fly within the earth’s atmosphere and accelerate up to Mach 5. However, while flying, the engine can also switch to rocket mode to propel the plane through the atmosphere at Mach 25.

Sabre’s heat exchanger is the true marvel of this project. Before the engine can switch to rocket mode, the incoming air has to be cooled. The Sabre engine can cool the incoming airstream from a temperature of over 1,000°C to -150°C in less than a hundredth of a second, without the engine frosting up.

The technology of Sabre’s heat exchanger was successfully tested in 2012 and the achievement was independently confirmed by ESA.

“The pre-cooler test objectives have all been successfully met and ESA is satisfied that the tests demonstrate the technology required for SABRE engine development,” ESA officials said in November 2012.

Reaction Engines will receive the £60 million in two stages: £35 million in 2014/2015 and another £25 million in 2015/2016. This funding is expected to add a further 2,000 jobs to the economy, including an extra 1,000 increasingly in-demand computer jobs.

UK Invests in Futuristic Space Plane Engine
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