Saturday, 20 July 2013

Air-breathing rocket engine gets funding infusion

Air-breathing rocket engine gets
funding infusion
A cutaway view of the proposed
Sabre engine, which is being
developed by Oxfordshire-based
Reaction Engines. Credit: Reaction
Engines

The technology, which sounds straight
out of a science-fiction movie, has
enough reality to it for the United
Kingdom government to offer $90.62
million (£60 million), in stages, to a
company looking to develop the
engine.
The money will go to Oxfordshire-
based Reaction Engines, which we've
seen on Universe Today before.
They're also developing an unpiloted
and reusable spacecraft called
Skylon, which is intended for low
Earth orbit after leaving the planet
from a conventional runway.
Skylon isn't flight-ready yet, but so
far the project did pass a United
Kingdom Space Agency technical
assessment. If completed, the UK
Space Agency says Skylon is just one
of many vehicles that could use this
engine, which is called Sabre.
"The unique engine is designed to
extract the oxygen it needs for low
atmosphere flight from the air itself,
paving the way for a new generation
of spaceplanes which would be
lighter, reusable and able to take off
and launch from conventional airport
runways," the agency stated.
The money, stated Reaction Engines
founder Alan Bond, will fund "the
next phase in the development of its
engine and heat management
technology." More specifically, this is
what the company plans to use the
funds for:
Engine technical design work;
Improving lightweight heat
exchanger technology and
manufacturing;
Performing wind tunnel and flight
testing of engine components;
Doing a "ground demonstration"
of the engine.
If all stays to schedule, Reaction
Engines expects a Sabre prototype
will be ready in 2017, with flight tests
commencing in 2020.
The major goal of Sabre is to use hot
air entering the engine to obtain the
required oxygen for operations,
rather than carrying the gas
separately on board. The engine is
supposed to switch to a "rocket
mode" at 26,000 feet in altitude.
"This advantage enables a spaceplane
to fly lighter from the outset and to
make a single leap to orbit, rather
than using and dumping propellant
stages on the ascent – as is the case
with current expendable rockets," the
UK Space Agency stated.
Reaction Engines promises Skylon
would give "reliable access to space"
through carrying payloads of up to 15
tonnes, but at only 2% of the cost of
more conventional launch vehicles—
namely, rockets. It remains to be
seen if they will achieve that cost
goal, but the funding is welcome
news nonetheless for the company.

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