Virgin Galactic Pivots High-speed Aircraft Program in a Crowded Field

Credit: Douglas Messier

Virgin Galactic’s record of delays and broken promises raises doubts about its ambitious supersonic aircraft project as company founder Richard Branson fights to save his struggling empire in the midst of a global pandemic.

Updated on 10/27/20 at 12:39 p.m. PDT to include spending comparison of Virgin Orbit to Rocket Lab.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Richard Branson’s dream of a suborbital Virgin Galactic vehicle zipping passengers between distant cities at hypersonic speeds above Mach 5 (6,174 km/h, 3,836 mph) is dead. At least for now.

In August, the space tourism company he founded pivoted to a slower supersonic Mach 3 (3,704 km/h, 2,302 mph) business jet. Virgin Galactic unveiled a mission concept for an aircraft that would carry 9-19 passengers at a cruising altitude of 60,000 ft (18,288 m).

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Supersonic & Hypersonic Civilian Transport Projects in Development

Overture supersonic passenger jet (Credit: Boom Supersonic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Boom Supersonic’s recent rollout of its XB-1 supersonic demonstrator aircraft marked a milestone in an accelerating race to revive an era of civilian supersonic travel that ended when the Concorde jetliner was retired in 2003.

XB-1, aka Baby Boom, is set to begin flight tests next year from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The Mach 2.2 (2,717 km/h, 1,688 mph) vehicle is the precursor to Boom’s 55-seat Overture airliner, which is scheduled to begin carrying passengers in 2029.

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Reaction Engines and Rolls-Royce Announce New Strategic Partnership Agreement

Credit: Reaction Engines

ABINGTON, UK (Reaction Engines/Rolls-Royce PR) — Reaction Engines Ltd and Rolls-Royce plc today announced a new strategic partnership agreement to develop high-speed aircraft propulsion systems and explore applications for Reaction Engines’ thermal management technology within civil and defence aerospace gas turbine engines and hybrid-electric systems.

“We have been working closely with Reaction Engines for the past two years, including exploring the potential of high-Mach systems for defence applications, and I am delighted that we are able to strengthen that relationship,” said Mark Thompson, Director of Global Strategy & Business Development, Rolls-Royce. “This partnership follows our recent announcements with Boom Supersonic and Virgin Galactic.”

“Reaction Engines’ thermal management skills, added to our suite of existing technologies and capabilities, will further assist us as we explore opportunities in supersonic and hypersonic aviation,” Thompson added. “Building on our many decades of innovation, we will also explore the use of Reaction Engines’ technology within our aerospace gas turbines and its potential application in future hybrid-electric propulsion systems, as we look to make flying ever more efficient and sustainable.”

Additionally, Rolls-Royce is making a further investment in Reaction Engines as part of a wider funding round. The two companies have been working together since 2018, including on the first phase of a UK Ministry of Defence contract to undertake design studies, research, development, analysis and experimentation related to high-Mach advanced propulsion systems.

“This strategic partnership is about developing market ready applications for Reaction Engines’ technology in next generation engines and is a significant step forward for our technology commercialisation plans,” said Mark Thomas, Chief Executive of Reaction Engines. “Our proprietary heat exchanger technology delivers incredible heat transfer capabilities at extremely low weight and a compact size. We look forward to expanding our international collaboration with Rolls-Royce, a global leader in power systems, to bring to market a range of applications that will transform the performance and efficiency of aircraft engines, enable high speed – supersonic and hypersonic – flight and support the drive towards more sustainable aviation through innovative new technologies.” 

Reaction Engines Announces Conceptual Study for SABRE Engine Hypersonic Test Bed

SABRE engine (Credit: Reaction Engines)

ABINGDON, UK (Reaction Engines PR) — Reaction Engines is delighted to announce the launch of a conceptual study to develop a flying Hypersonic Test Bed (HTB) concept for the in-flight demonstration of SABRE technology. 

The study was initiated through the UK Space Agency and will be conducted under the European Space Agency General Support Technology Programme (GSTP).  It involves a consortium consisting of Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (including Cranfield University), Reaction Engines, BAE Systems and Frost & Sullivan.

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Reaction Engines Awarded Contract by Nammo UK

ABINGDON, UK (Reaction Engines PR) — Reaction Engines and Nammo UK have signed an agreement for the supply of a rocket plume heat exchanger for the UK’s new National Space Propulsion Test Facility.

Nammo UK has recently been awarded a multi-million Pound contract by the European Space Agency to construct and operate the UK National Space Propulsion Test Facility at Westcott Venture Park, Buckinghamshire, UK.

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Reaction Engines Full Validates SABRE Engine Precooler in Hypersonic Heat Conditions

Sabre engine precooler test. (Credit: Reaction Engines)

ABINGDON, England (Reaction Engines PR) — Reaction Engines has successfully tested its innovative precooler at airflow temperature conditions representing Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, marking a significant milestone in the development of its SABRE™ engine and paving the way for a revolution in hypersonic flight and space access.

The precooler heat exchanger is a vital component of Reaction Engines’ revolutionary SABRE air-breathing rocket engine and is an enabling technology for other precooled propulsion systems and a range of commercial applications.

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UK Announces £1.3 Million in Additional Spaceport Funding

Chris Skidmore

Address to UK Space Conference 2019
Science Minister Chris Skidmore
24 September 2019

Excerpt

Back in June, I was delighted to announce that Spaceport Cornwall and Virgin Orbit will push forward with work to develop facilities to enable small satellite launch, thanks to a £20 million [$24.7 million] funding package from UKSA, but also Cornwall Council. This is in addition to the £31 million [$38.3 million] we have invested in vertical launch at Sutherland.

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ESA Completes Further Design Validation of Reaction Engine’s SABRE™ Rocket Engine

SABRE engine (Credit: Reaction Engines)

WESTCOTT, UK (Reaction Engines PR) — The development programme of the world’s first air-breathing rocket engine has taken an additional significant step forward, which will lead to major testing milestones being undertaken within the next 18 months.

Reaction Engines has received further endorsement of its revolutionary SABRE™ engine design via its collaboration with ESA and the UK Space Agency (UKSA). The two agencies recently reviewed the preliminary design of the demonstrator engine core of the Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE), which Reaction Engines will use to undertake ground-based testing at its under-construction test facility at Westcott, Buckinghamshire.

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Lockheed Martin To Help UK Space Agency Build First Commercial Spaceport; Launch First Orbital Rocket

Lockheed Martin UK Spaceflight Programme Video from Lockheed Martin Space on Vimeo.

FARNBOROUGH, England, July 16, 2018 (Northrop Grumman PR) — The UK Space Agency has selected Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) to help implement its vision for the UK Spaceflight Programme, an innovative initiative to create a world-leading commercial launch market that grows the UK economy through regular, reliable and responsible access to space.

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Reaction Engines: New Investors Bring “Invaluable Expertise” to SABRE Program

SABRE engine (Credit: Reaction Engines)

ABINGTON, UK, 12 April 2018 (Reaction Engines PR) – Reaction Engines Limited (‘Reaction Engines’) today announced that it has raised a further £26.5 million in a strategic fundraising by securing backing from some of the most influential names in aerospace and finance which will support its development of SABRE™ – a revolutionary new class of aerospace engine combining jet and rocket technologies.

New strategic investors are Boeing HorizonX Ventures, the investment arm of Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company and leading manufacturer of commercial jetliners and defence, space and security systems; and Rolls-Royce, a pre-eminent engineering company focused on world class power and propulsion systems whose experience and capability in building complex engine systems is well known.

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Reaction Engines Receives $37.6 Million Investment

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

Reaction Engines has received a large investment by Boeing HorizonX and two other companies, CNBC reports.

The U.S. industrial giant joined Rolls-Royce and defense company BAE Systems in a $37.6 million fundraising round for U.K.-based propulsion company Reaction Engines. This is both the second foreign investment and the second space investment for Boeing HorizonX Ventures, which contributed to the $15 million funding round for Australian satellite company Myriota last month.

Reaction Engines’ advanced propulsion “could change the future of air and space travel,” according to Boeing HorizonX vice president Steve Nordlund.

“We expect to leverage their revolutionary technology to support Boeing’s pursuit of hypersonic flight,” Nordlund said in a statement.

Reaction Engines, which has now raised more than $140 million over the last three years, is developing a hybrid jet and rocket engine. In theory, the company’s SABRE engine will be capable of operating as a jet at take-off and transitioning to a rocket at higher altitudes.











Reaction Engines Receives DARPA Contract for Precooler Tests

CASTLE ROCK, Colo., September 25, 2017 (Reaction Engines PR) — Reaction Engines Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of Reaction Engines, today announced that it has received a contract from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to conduct high-temperature airflow testing in the United States of a Reaction Engines precooler test article called HTX.

The precooler heat exchanger is a key component of the company’s revolutionary SABRE air-breathing rocket engine and has the potential to enable other precooled propulsion systems. The primary HTX test objective is to validate precooler performance under the high-temperature airflow conditions expected during high-speed flights up to Mach 5.

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Reaction Engines Begins Construction of New Engine Test Facility

WESTCOTT, UK (Reaction Engines PR) — Reaction Engines Ltd. today began construction of a new engine test facility where it plans to undertake the first ground based demonstration of its revolutionary SABRE™ air-breathing rocket engine.

The test facility at Westcott, Buckinghamshire, UK will enable Reaction Engines to test critical subsystems along with the testing of a SABRE engine core, which will commence in 2020.

The project represents a substantial investment for Reaction Engines, which will consist of a multi-purpose propulsion test stand designed to accommodate various test engine configurations, an assembly building, workshops, offices and control room. The location of workshops and other support facilities alongside the test stand will enable configuration changes to the engine to take place at the site, reducing the down time between testing phases and accelerating the development programme of the SABRE engine.

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