The news brings the promise of not only routine, affordable access to space but also point-to-point travel at Mach 5 and major improvements in fuel efficiency for existing airliners. The announcement featured a major endorsement of the technology by ESA, has has worked with the British company to evaluate the results of the tests, Reuters reports.
“ESA are satisfied that the tests demonstrate the technology required for the Sabre engine development,” the agency’s head of propulsion engineering Mark Ford told a news conference.
“One of the major obstacles to a re-usable vehicle has been removed,” he said. “The gateway is now open to move beyond the jet age.”
The space plane, dubbed Skylon, only exists on paper. What the company has right now is a remarkable heat exchanger that is able to cool air sucked into the engine at high speed from 1,000 degrees Celsius to minus 150 degrees in one hundredth of a second.
This core piece of technology solves one of the constraints that limit jet engines to a top speed of about 2.5 times the speed of sound, which Reaction Engines believes it could double….
The Sabre engine could take a plane to five times the speed of sound and an altitude of 25 km, about 20 percent of the speed and altitude needed to reach orbit. For space access, the engines would then switch to rocket mode to do the remaining 80 percent.
Reaction Engines believes Sabre is the only engine of its kind in development and the company now needs to raise about 250 million pounds ($400 million) to fund the next three-year development phase in which it plans to build a small-scale version of the complete engine.
Philippa Oldham, head of Transport and Manufacturing at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, issued the following statement in response to Reaction Engines’ announcement:
“Keeping the engine from overheating has been one of the biggest obstacles to developing the SABRE engine, a technology which would enable flying speeds of up to five times the speed of sound, or as much as twenty-five times the speed of sound in Earth’s orbit.
“This new heat exchanger is able to control the SABRE engine temperature, which will have a great impact on UK aerospace engine industry. This technology has the potential to be used with current aeroplanes, which could improve fuel efficiency by up to 10%, saving airlines about $20 billion a year.
“This technology also brings us a step closer to flights from London to Sydney that last just a little longer than an on-flight film or even two-week holidays in space.
“The fact that this technology is being developed in the UK is also hugely encouraging and demonstrates the talent and expertise there is in this country for manufacturing high value and high-tech goods.”