Skylon Spaceplane development given go-ahead by UK Space Agency

A technical assessment has concluded that there are no impediments to the further development of the Skylon spacecraft being developed by Reaction Engines.

The UK Space Agency’s report on the Skylon technical assessment, for which the European Space Agency (ESA) was commissioned, also agreed with the objectives of the proposed next stage of the development programme.

The 52 page Skylon Assessment Report

In conclusion the ESA assessment has identified a number of issues that must be addressed to increase the maturity of the vehicle and engine developments. However no impediments or critical items have been identified for either the SKYLON vehicle or the SABRE engine that are a block to further development.

It is clear that the SABRE engine is critical for the successful development of the SKYLON vehicle.

The consensus for the way forward is to proceed with the innovative development of the engine which in turn will enable the overall vehicle development.

The SABRE engine offers to deliver both high thrust to weight ratio and high performance over the Mach 0 to 6 range based on a single cycle. This is a major advantage in comparison to alternate air-breathing engine designs.

In particular, based on REL’s flight like heat exchanger technology and their successful demonstration of the frost control mechanism at laboratory scale (a major milestone that has so far eluded other international developments), ESA are confident that a ground test of a sub-scale engine can be successfully performed to demonstrate the flight regime and cycle and will be both a critical milestone in the development of this program and a major breakthrough in propulsion worldwide.

For the future SKYLON vehicle, the concept and structural design work undertaken by Reaction Engines Ltd does not demonstrate any areas of implausibility due to the relatively benign environment of the flight trajectory.

The report states that:

Success on future engine test would mean “a major breakthrough in propulsion worldwide”

The engine and vehicle can be developed with “today’s current technology”

Reaction Engines will conduct an important demonstration of the engine’s key pre-cooler technology later in the summer.

SKYLON is an unpiloted, reusable single stage to orbit (SSTO) spaceplane that will provide reliable access to space and be capable of delivering payloads of up to 15 tonnes into Low Earth Orbit (LEO, approx. 300km) at about 1/50th of the cost of traditional expendable launch vehicles, such as rockets. SKYLON’s SABRE engines use liquid hydrogen combined with oxygen from the air at altitudes up to 26km and speeds of up to Mach 5, before switching over to on-board liquid oxygen for the final stage of ascent.

The SKYLON technical assessment concluded that ‘no impediments or critical items have been identified for either the SKYLON vehicle or the SABRE engine that are a block to further developments’.

Dr David Parker, Director of Technology, Science and Exploration at the UK Space Agency, said, “Both SABRE and SKYLON are exciting new technologies which could transform access to space. ESA’s positive assessment should give everyone increased confidence that Reaction Engines are on the right track. We are looking forward to the upcoming technology tests with interest.”

The UK Space Agency’s technical assessment process was comprised of two parts. The first was a series of visits by technical teams from ESA to review Reaction Engines’ designs and witness critical tests of component performance.

The second part was the SKYLON System Requirement Review, held on the 20th and 21st September 2010, at which almost 100 international aerospace experts posed questions and made comments on SKYLON’s technical and economic feasibility

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