Reaction Engines successfully tests breakthrough heat exchanger and pre-cooler that will enable hypersonic Skylon space plane

Reaction Engines Ltd. , a UK based company, has successfully completed another series of tests of the key component for a new engine, SABRE, that will enable aircraft to fly anywhere on Earth in under 4 hours, or directly into space and back to deliver satellites and other cargo. The new technology is the heat exchanger and pre-cooler. Everything would be proven technology.

The SABRE engine is capable of operating as a jet engine and a rocket engine, powering aircraft at up to five times the speed of sound within the atmosphere or directly into Earth orbit at twenty-five times the speed of sound. Its ground-breaking technology – an air pre-cooler – is designed to cool continuously the incoming airstream from over 1,000⁰C to minus 150⁰C in less than 1/100th of a second (six times faster than the blink of an eye), effectively doubling the current technical limits of jet engine speeds.

Developed by Reaction Engines over the last 22 years, SABRE (Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine) is a new engine class that can operate in both air-breathing and rocket modes. This advanced combined cycle air-breathing SABRE rocket engine enables aircraft to operate easily at speeds of up to five times the speed of sound or fly directly into Earth orbit. With the pre-cooler heat exchanger and other SABRE engine advanced technology development programmes nearly completed, the next stage of the SABRE programme will include a full engine demonstrator.

SABRE-powered reusable space planes like SKYLON will dramatically cut the cost of launching satellites by as much as 100 times. The global space market is worth £180 billion annually – £7.5 billion to the UK alone. This means the development of these vehicles offers major economic opportunities to the UK. It is estimated that the development stage for SABRE and the SKYLON satellite launcher alone will see investment of £7.5 billion, creating 70,000 jobs.

Reaction Engines heat exchangers are 100 times lighter than current technology allowing them to be used in weight-critical aerospace applications. This is achieved through the use of extremely thin walls to separate the hot and cold fluids within the heat exchangers, coupled with advanced manufacturing techniques needed to bond these fine structures whilst maintaining their strength, durability and low weight.

For example, REL has made the tube walls for its Pre-cooler as thin as possible – in our most recent demonstration the tube walls were only 27 microns thick but are bonded together to resist pressures greater than 150 bar – that’s 150 times greater than atmospheric pressure at temperatures ranging from over 1,000°C to less than minus 150°C .

2012 SABRE Pre-cooler Demonstration Facts:

* Over 50 km of heat exchanger tubing for a weight penalty of less than 50kg

* Heat exchanger tube wall thickness less than 30 microns (less than the diameter of a human hair)

* Incoming airstream to be cooled to -150 °C in less than 20 milliseconds (faster
than the blink of an eye)

* No frost formation during low temperature operation

Skylon Spaceplane

SKYLON is an unpiloted, reusable spaceplane intended to provide reliable, responsive and cost effective access to space. Currently in proof-of-concept phase, the vehicle will be capable of transporting 12+ tonnes of cargo into space. It is the use of SABRE’s combined air-breathing and rocket cycles that enables a vehicle that can take off from a runway, fly direct to earth orbit and return for a runway landing, just like an aircraft.

SKYLON will provide aircraft-like access to space to enable:

Operation from runway to orbit and back
100 x cost reduction vs. existing technology
400 x improved reliability
Responsive access to space

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