The Reaction Engines team are expanding in staff and activities to complete the SABRE demonstrator programme, with delivery on track for 2019. The company has relocated to larger premises on Culham Science Centre; consolidated its two manufacturing subsidiaries to a single new location in Didcot; and is recruiting across the company, ready for the design, manufacture and testing of the full SABRE engine cycle. This growth phase has also included the purchase of new, bespoke equipment which will enable Reaction Engines to manufacture its proprietary SABRE pre- coolers in-house, at full scale.
The key development activities over the first year of this programme have centred on intakes and combustion systems. This activity includes the recently completed Preliminary Requirements Review development milestone, and has been 50% funded by Reaction Engines’ private capital. Matching funding has been provided by the UK Space Agency, through the European Space Agency. With the UK Government’s commitment of £60m and private capital secured towards the next steps in this development phase, the Reaction Engines team are positive that a full static demonstration of the SABRE engine is achievable before the end of the decade, marking the greatest advance in propulsion since the jet engine.
SKYLON will use SABRE engines in air-breathing mode to accelerate from take-off to Mach 5.5 which allows 1,250 tonnes of atmospheric air to be captured and used in the engines, of which 250 tonnes is oxygen which therefore does not have to be carried in propellant tanks. At Mach 5.5 and 25 kilometres altitude the SABRE engine transitions to its rocket engine mode, using liquid oxygen stored on board SKYLON, to complete its ascent to orbit at a speed of Mach 25. In this space access application, SABRE engines need an operational life of only 55 hours to achieve 200 flights, significantly less than the 10,000s of hours needed for conventional jet engines.
Though SABRE engines utilise many existing rocket and jet engine technologies, two key areas new to aerospace had to be addressed: ultra-lightweight heat exchangers and frost control. REL has focused primarily on developing these new technologies and the advanced manufacturing techniques required for their commercialisation.
Ultra-Lightweight Heat Exchangers
These cool the incoming airstream very quickly and effectively, from over 1,000 °C to minus 150 °C in less than 1/100th of a second (six times faster than the blink of an eye). They are extremely lightweight — approximately 100 times lighter than current technology — allowing them to be used for aerospace applications for the first time.
The impact that these miniaturised heat exchangers will have on aerospace propulsion systems is comparable to the impact of the silicon chip on computing: new products, new markets, new capabilities.
* 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)
The moisture content in air turns to frost when it passes over REL’s very cold heat exchangers. This frost blocks the heat exchangers and stops them working. REL has therefore developed technology to prevent frost formation.
* No frost formation during low temperature operation
Skylon Space plane
SKYLON is an unpiloted, reusable spaceplane intended to provide reliable, responsive and cost effective access to space.
Currently in early development phase, the vehicle will be capable of transporting 15 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
* Order of magnitude reduction in cost vs. existing technology
* 400 x improved reliability
* Responsive access to space
A Lapcat aircraft carrying 300 passengers could go from Europe to Australia in about four hours.
SOURCES – Reaction Engines, Wikipedia, Daily Mail UK
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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