With renewed interest in space exploration, in recent decades, scientists across the world are looking for ways to build more powerful rocket engines, as a way of optimizing spaceflight. For instance, the researchers at UK-based Reaction Engines have spent the last 20 years developing an innovative scramjet engine concept that can operate in both jet and rocket modes. To accelerate the development process, aerospace giant BAE Systems has recently announced that it would invest £20.6 million (US$32 million) in the project, in return for 20-percent of the company’s share capital.
Known as Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE), Reaction’s new hypersonic engine combines the best of jet and rocket technologies. A scramjet by design, it forms the basis of the single-stage-to-orbit Skylon spaceplane currently being developed by the company. Capable of reaching orbital velocity, Skylon could be used for a total of 200 missions, making it far more energy efficient than currently-available technologies. By functioning as a jet while in the atmosphere, and later as a rocket in space, this highly-specialized engine does away with the need to carry large amounts of oxygen for the combustion of the liquid hydrogen fuel.
What is all the more remarkable is its ability to swiftly acquire speeds over Mach 5 (around 4,500 mph or 7,200 km/h) when inside the atmosphere. The engine automatically switches to the rocket mode in space, following which it achieves even higher velocities of nearly twenty five times the speed of sound. The partnership between BAE and Reaction Engines will allow the engineers to utilize the former’s expertise in project management and aerospace technology development. Speaking about the agreement, Mark Thomas, the managing director at Reaction Engines Limited said:
Today’s announcement represents an important landmark in the transition of Reaction Engines from a company that has been focused on the research and testing of enabling technologies for the SABRE engine to one that is now focused on the development and testing of the world’s first SABRE engine. BAE Systems brings industry leading capabilities in program delivery and wider engineering systems integration that will accelerate the development of SABRE as a new engine class and its vehicle applications. This partnership builds on the outstanding technical breakthroughs that Reaction Engines has made and the positive assessments received on the potential of the technology from experts at the European Space Agency and the United States’ Air Force Research Laboratory.
According to the officials, the agreement is currently awaiting the approval of the company’s shareholders. The project will receive additional funding of £60 million (around $92 million) from the UK government.
Source: Reaction Engines