EU Provides $77 Million for SABRE Engine R&D

Skylon with the SABRE engine. (Credit: Reaction Engines)
Skylon with the SABRE engine. (Credit: Reaction Engines)

BRUSSELS, Belgium (EC PR) — The European Commission has found that a £50 million (around €71 million) grant that the UK authorities intend to provide for designing a SABRE space launcher engine is in line with EU state aid rules.

SABRE is a research and development (R&D) project carried out by UK company Reaction Engines Limited (REL). The project aims to develop an engine that would power a reusable airframe to launch satellites into low Earth orbit, significantly reducing the costs of such space missions.

The Commission found that the measure fosters aerospace R&D in Europe while limiting distortions of competition in the Single Market.

Commissioner in charge of competition policy Margrethe Vestager commented: “I am glad that we have approved public funding for the SABRE project. It supports crucial R&D in the challenging area of satellite launches into low Earth orbit – the most difficult and costly step in any space mission. It can lead to significant technological advances that would benefit consumers using products and services depending on these satellites, such as mobile communications, broadcasting, and navigation.”

The UK notified plans in January 2015 to support the SABRE project for the design, engineering and assembling of key engine components for integration in a new type of space launcher.

The new engine would enable a vehicle to reach orbital velocity and altitude from the Earth’s surface without jettisoning any hardware. The objective is to render the technology less risky by significantly improving each of SABRE’s numerous components and subsystems.

If successful, the engine would be used to power the prototype of a reusable airframe, SKYLON, for flights into low Earth orbit, drastically reducing launch costs and enabling a step change in outer-space transportation technology.

The Commission assessed the project under its 2014 Framework on state aid for Research, Development and Innovation (R&D&I), which requires that state aid is proportionate to the objective and limited to the minimum necessary to avoid crowding out private investors. It concluded that the funding raised at this stage from private equity is insufficient to bring the project to completion. This is mainly because private investors are unable to fully apprehend the risk and opportunities of the endeavour due to a lack of information on these. The £50 million grant, along with money raised by REL from private investors, will allow the project to advance.

The UK authorities have also committed to ensure that private investors participate in each stage of the project so as the limit the use of public money in line with EU state aid rules. Furthermore, the risk of competition distortions is presently minor as the aided project is relatively remote from the market and REL is currently not active in the space launcher engine market.

The Commission therefore concluded that the project’s contribution to common EU R&D&I goals clearly outweighs any potential distortion of competition brought about by the public financing.

The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.39457in the State Aid Register on the DG Competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of state aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the State Aid Weekly e-News.

  • windbourne

    About time. Hopefully, this will give spacex a run for their money.
    Ariane space will not be.

  • MrFriendly B

    What is this title? It should be “The UK provides $77 Million For SABRE Engine R&D since the first phrase says “The European Commission has found that a £50 million (around €71 million) grant THAT THE UK AUTHORITIES INTEND TO PROVIDE for designing a SABRE space launcher engine is in line with EU state aid rules”.

  • Smokey_the_Bear

    77 million dollars is a drop in the bucket. It’s gonna need billions to actually make this craft.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Does anyone know the state of Sabre vs the Japanse LACE? If I remember right, the Japanese actually have integrated burn time on a operating LACE (Liquid Air Cycle Engine).

  • Charles Lurio

    Smokey is right, it’s a drop in the bucket. Tho it may allow some useful demos.

  • Vladislaw

    how much does just a high performance jet turbine engine cost to develop..

  • Paul451

    $77m down. Then just $75m per month in 132 easy installments.

    And if you’re not completely happy… uh, yeah.

    Call now!

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Go to the REL website and go to “Downloads/Technical Documents”

    Just about all the documents are worth reading, but the “A Comparison of Propulsion Concepts for SSTO Reusable Launchers” is particularly good, and explains why REL chose the SABRE concept.

  • DavidR2015

    I believe that its reckoned that the engines can be developed for around $350m. I don’t think anyone outside REL expects the engines to ever go anywhere near a Skylon vehicle.

  • DavidR2015

    What made me laugh was the statement “while limiting the distortions of competition in the Single Market” as if there are loads of companies in Europe pursuing this kind of technology…

  • Snofru Chufu

    It is only about a Comparison of different propulsion concepts, more interesting would comparison of resulting launcher concepts, especially under view of development, launch and operations costs.

    Does their cooperation with USAF exist up to now? If yes, I am wondering how spending of tax money (collected from different EU countries) fits to a kind of costless technology transfer to USA.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “It is only about a Comparison of different propulsion concepts”
    No quite. It’s about candidate propulsion concepts specifically for SSTO. That’s not say they may or may not be plausible for staged launchers, but the authors have limited the comparison to SSTO suitability.

  • Snofru Chufu

    Do you know if the USAF “cooperation” continous?

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    I don’t know. It was never really made clear publicly of the extent to which USAF was interested and I much their potential investment may have been if their initial studies were favourable.

    The thing about SABRE is that the only new technology as such is the pre-cooler. REL have already demonstrated that this should work. The rest is a long and expensive engineering effort rather than fundamentally new technology development.

    My biggest concern, other than the finding of development capital, is the idea of a reusable hydrogen engine.

  • SpaceTech

    Correct, the Air Force Research Lab studied the engine concept and agreed that the concept was “technically feasible” and “warrants further investigation”.

  • windbourne

    back in the 50’s when they were first done, a LOT.
    Now, not as much since we have loads of experience.

    Now, for SABRE, no one has done this before. It will cost a lot.

  • patb2009

    design? not so much. Test? A lot.

  • sean heavers

    Reaction Engines Limited say they need 20 billion english pounds to give them a real hope of flying hardware . The Uk is one of the unhealthiest nations in the western world and currently spends in excess of 70 billion pounds a year on so called healthcare and for some reason insists on giving billions to an increasingly wealthy India .Billions are devoted to keeping alive the increasingly ridiculous and disliked British Broadcasting Corporation .The charade of seeking money from the space-unfriendly EU is unnecessary.Making Skylon real is a question of making the right british political fools see that there is life and meaning beyond financing obscenity and stupidity.