The skies over Britain may soon be filled with hypersonic jets thanks to a generous government investment in Reaction Engine’s SABRE scramjet, an engine that will one day drive the Skylon spaceplane.
Late last year Reaction Engines, in combination with the European Space Agency (ESA), successfully tested the precooler system on their Synergistic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE) scramjet. Because of this successful test the UK Space Agency has awarded Reaction Engines a £60 million investment with the goal of making “technical improvements leading to construction of a prototype” SABRE scramjet.
For about a decade companies the world over have been working to build scramjet engines. In theory these revolutionary new engines could propel aircraft and spaceplanes to speeds that scream past Mach 24, 29,000km/h (18,000mph). Although there are many obstacles that stand in the way of scramjets making it to market, engineers are most concerned with how to cool the incoming air that feeds the engine. But, apparently, engineers at Reaction Engines have created a compact answer to this problem with their precooler, reducing the temperature of the air entering the engine by 1000°C (1832ºF) in .01 seconds.
According to Mark Ford, head of ESA’s propulsion division, Reaction Engines’ precooler is an impressive engineering feat. “These types of heat exchangers exist in the real world but they’re the size of a factory. The key part of this is that Reaction Engines has produced something sufficiently light and compact that it can be flown.”
If scramjets like the SABRE can be advanced to the stage where they can be mass produced, passengers wanting to take a jaunt across the globe will see their travel times slashed. According to Alan Bond, Chief Engineer at Reaction Engines, “An aircraft carrying 300 passengers could go from Europe to Australia in 4 hours.”
While those transit times are incredible, what’s even more impressive is that at its top speed, Mach 5, a SABRE driven aircraft could take off from Earth, enter low-Earth orbit to perform space missions. This type of technology could dramatically reduce the cost of space flight, and lead to major developments in all manner of space industry.
Watch Alan Bond Describe the SABRE Technology
Images and Video Courtesy of Reaction Engines and ESA