Space

BAE Systems and Reaction Engines to develop hypersonic space engine

BAE Systems and Reaction Engin...
Skylon is designed to significantly reduce ground-to-orbit costs
Skylon is designed to significantly reduce ground-to-orbit costs
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Skylon is designed to significantly reduce ground-to-orbit costs
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Skylon is designed to significantly reduce ground-to-orbit costs
Artist's concept of Skylon
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Artist's concept of Skylon
Detail of SABRE’s heat exchanger
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Detail of SABRE’s heat exchanger
SABRE’s heat exchanger can cool very hot airstreams from over 1,000 degrees C to minus 150 degrees C in less than 1/100th of a second while preventing the formation of ice at sub-zero temperatures
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SABRE’s heat exchanger can cool very hot airstreams from over 1,000 degrees C to minus 150 degrees C in less than 1/100th of a second while preventing the formation of ice at sub-zero temperatures
SABRE heat exchanger test facility
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SABRE heat exchanger test facility
SABRE uses an advanced precooler system
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SABRE uses an advanced precooler system
Cutaway of SABRE
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Cutaway of SABRE
Reaction Engines' design concept for Skylon is a reusable, single-stage orbital launcher
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Reaction Engines' design concept for Skylon is a reusable, single-stage orbital launcher
SABRE (Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine) is an advanced combined cycle rocket engine with the potential to revolutionise hypersonic flight and the economics of space access
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SABRE (Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine) is an advanced combined cycle rocket engine with the potential to revolutionise hypersonic flight and the economics of space access
Reaction Engines' design concept for Skylon, a single-stage-to-orbit reusable launch vehicle
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Reaction Engines' design concept for Skylon, a single-stage-to-orbit reusable launch vehicle
STOIC advanced rocket nozzle
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STOIC advanced rocket nozzle
STOIC advanced rocket nozzle
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STOIC advanced rocket nozzle
Reaction Engines' design concept for Skylon
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Reaction Engines' design concept for Skylon
Skylon can reach orbital velocity
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Skylon can reach orbital velocity
Computer-generated image of ground-based SABRE test engine
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Computer-generated image of ground-based SABRE test engine

Reaction Engines' single-stage-to-orbit Skylon spacecraft took a step closer to reality today as BAE Systems announced that it would buy a 20 percent stake in the company as part of an agreement to help develop Reaction's Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE) hypersonic engine designed to propel the Skylon orbiter.

Under the agreement, BAE will buy £20.6 million (US$32 million) in Reaction Engines share capital and acquire representation on the company's board of directors. In return, Reaction will be able to use BAE's expertise in aerospace technology development and project management. This will allow the partners to expand Reaction's engineering staff and move SABRE away from the demonstration phase into full development, as well as the testing of the completed hypersonic engine.

The SABRE is a scramjet. That is, it reduces the propellant load because it acts as a jet while in the atmosphere and a rocket in space, so it doesn't have to carry as much oxygen to burn the liquid hydrogen fuel. It does so at velocities above Mach 5 (4,500 mph, 7,200 km/h) before flying into space, when it switches to rocket mode to achieve the even faster speeds needed to reach orbit.

Computer-generated image of ground-based SABRE test engine
Computer-generated image of ground-based SABRE test engine

"Today’s announcement represents an important landmark in the transition of Reaction Engines from a company that has been focused on the research and testing of enabling technologies for the SABRE engine to one that is now focused on the development and testing of the world’s first SABRE engine," says Mark Thomas, Managing Director, Reaction Engines Limited. "BAE Systems brings industry leading capabilities in program delivery and wider engineering systems integration that will accelerate the development of SABRE as a new engine class and its vehicle applications. This partnership builds on the outstanding technical breakthroughs that Reaction Engines has made and the positive assessments received on the potential of the technology from experts at the European Space Agency and the United States’ Air Force Research Laboratory."

The agreement is still pending approval of Reaction Engines’ shareholders. In the meantime, the British government is expected to provide a £60 million ($92 million) grant for ground testing and seeking applications for Skylon and the SABRE engine.

Source: Reaction Engines

16 comments
Mutley
The SABRE engine is NOT a scramjet!
Brad Arnold
This is big - I can't overstate the importance of getting the SABRE engine off the drawing board and into production. This is a miracle engine in terms of routine travel outside the gravity well of Earth. It might very well be the first trillion dollar industry. It is very difficult to understand the amount of extraterrestrial resources that are ripe for the plucking, nor the importance of exporting humans from Earth and into space routinely. This vehicle enables vast extraterrestrial resources to be routinely exploited. Sad that countries aren't devoting vast resources to this project.
DomainRider
SABRE is a dual mode turbo-compressed ROCKET engine, not a jet. It operates as a rocket at all times - in the atmosphere it compresses and cools external air for its oxidant, in space it uses liquid oxygen.
Cuckoo
I've been following Skylon for a long time, waiting for the day SABRE became a reality. That day is finally coming, it's a very exciting technology. I want to know though, while it is obviously great for small payloads and ferrying people. Will it be efficient enough to make heavy lifters obsolete? Also, is it scalable - for the same reasons?
windykites
DomainRider. It works as a jet engine, using atmospheric air,until the air becomes too thin, then it uses internal liquid oxygen like a rocket engine.It does not operate as a rocket at all times.
MarkGolding
Wow. But who cares what BAE produces? They are developers and manufacturers of weapons of mass destruction aren't they? They should and WILL be criminalized for their activities. Period.
Derek Howe
The day this craft gets off the ground is still at least a decade away, probably 15+. But I'm glad they are continuing to plug away at it. Cuckoo - It won't ever replace heavy lifters, but it could put a dent in the small satellite market. But unfortunately for them, a LOT of companies are working hard on making that emerging market more affordable. Rocket tech is more straight forward...which means cheaper, and if a standard rocket is reusable...then it's possible that this thing will end up costing MORE then a standard rocket.
IanRivlin
Message for Mr. Mark Golding... Be very, very grateful for arms manufacturers. Germany (and probably Japan) would have overwhelmed us in WW2, but for technologically superior arms. If you think either of these two countries would have been benign victors, you only have to look at the brutality and concentration camps to be disavowed of such a notion. Sat, securely and comfortably in the peace of your home, it's very easy to pontificate about war and "how it could otherwise have been prosecuted". - All very well if both combatants play by civilised rules. History has taught us otherwise. Learn from history, or risk becoming a forgotten statistic yourself. German murders - around 10 million. Russian murders - around 30 million. Factor in Cambodia, North Korea, Islam nations etc etc etc - you're talking about a lot of innocent human lives lost to evil despots. Despots love people like you. Lenin referred to people with your views as "Useful idiots". (his words, not mine). Pacifist views such as yours might sound honourable and decent, until you consider the alternatives.
Racqia Dvorak
I've been following the development of this crucial tech for years! So excited. though a little disapointed that BAE is getting its fingers in the pie.
gizmagister
Mutley is absolutely correct. The SABRE engine is NOT a scramjet. The SABRE engine is NOTHING LIKE a scramjet! Scramjets attempt to do the impossible: Supersonic Combustion, which is a contradiction of terms. While combustion can occur in a supersonic flow, assuming the ingredients are properly mixed, combustion itself can only progress at subsonic rates. When chemical reactions progress faster than sound, that is called "detonation", which is a completely different beast. What the SABRE engine is designed for is MUCH simpler and easier than scramjets.