Skylon is a design by Reaction Engines Limited for an unpiloted, airbreathing single-stage to orbit, combined cycle jet engine based spaceplane. A fleet of vehicles is envisaged; the design is aiming for reusability up to 200 times. In paper studies, costs per kilogram of payload are hoped to be below the current costs of launch, including the costs of R&D, with costs expected to fall much more over time after the initial expenditures have amortised. The cost of the program has been estimated by the developer to be about $12 billion.
The vehicle design is for a hydrogen-powered aircraft that would take off from a conventional runway, and accelerate to Mach 5.4 at 26 km using atmospheric air before switching the engines to use the internal LOX supply to take it to orbit. It would then release a 12-tonne payload, then reenter the atmosphere. The payload would be carried in a standardised payload container or passenger compartment
The UK Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills was aksed what the recent assessment he has made of the potential viability of the Skylon Spaceplane; what assessment he has made of his merits of Government support for that project; and if he will make a statement.
David Willetts (Minister of State (Universities and Science), Business, Innovation and Skills; Havant, Conservative)
The European Space Agency is funding proof of concept work for Skylon from UK contributions. This work is focusing on demonstrating the viability of the advanced British engine technology that would underpin the project. Initial work will be completed in mid 2011 and if the trial is successful, we will work with industry to consider next steps.
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