A British company has announced a breakthrough engine technology that could be used to power space planes.
Developed by Reaction Engines Ltd. (REL), the new technology to be used in the Sabre (Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine) engine would enable aircraft to fly into orbit and back directly from a runway, and fly anywhere in the world in four hours.
The privately held company, whose technological advancement won the endorsement of the European Space Agency (ESA) is currently negotiating a US$1.3 million contract with the agency for further support, according to Aviation Week.
“We have made the biggest breakthrough in propulsion technology since the jet engine,” said REL chief executive Tim Hayter at a press conference in London on November 28.
According to the company’s website, the new technology uses “ultra-lightweight heat exchangers 100 times lighter than existing technologies that allow the cooling of very hot airstreams from over 1,000 C to minus 150 C in less than 1/100th of a second.”
The SKYLON space plane, as imagined by Reaction Engines. The company doesn't say when the actual space plane might be built. Although an operational Sabre engine is years away from production, REL has published descriptions and artist renderings of a space plane, dubbed SKYLON, that would presumably use the Sabre engine.
Two decades of research went into the new technology, which has undergone “extensive independent technical assessments, undertaken by the European Space Agency at the request of the UK government, which have confirmed the viability of the engine technology and its vehicle applications.”
The breakthrough is expected to have a substantial impact on the space travel market.
At the press conference, REL's Hayter valued the global space market at US$300 billion, and said that the engine would have a “transformational impact.”
While the European Space Agency endorsement is a huge step for REL, the company says it needs to raise approximately US$400 million over the next decade for more development.
“One of the major obstacles to a reusable vehicle has been removed,” Mark Ford, ESA’s head of propulsion engineering, told the press conference. “The gateway is now open to move beyond the jet age.”