UK Progress to Space Plane

Reaction Engines in the UK have been developing a space plane for two decades and they made progress on the core technology.

The Foreign Comparative Testing campaign was a success. Reaction Engine’s joint U.S. and UK team achieved over 10 megawatts of transferred thermal energy using the same style of precooler tested under the HTX campaign. This result was more than three times the energy transfer achieved in our previous test program. The results from this test further expand the operational envelope of our heat exchanger technology and prove its rightful place in the high-Mach regime.

They will develop an air breathing engine. This will mean they will not need to carry the liquid oxygen. Liquid oxygen is most of the mass for rocket fuel.

Traveling at high speeds heats up the air. They need to cool the air very rapidly to make an efficient hypersonic engine.

They are still working on the critical technology. They have not built and are still years from building the actual hypersonic plane. Still, congratulations to them on progress.

Reaction Engines Skylon targets flying to 26 km altitude at Mach 5 using air, the effective exhaust velocity is around 14 km/s. At that point, the exhaust velocity drops to 4.5 km/s burning LH2 and LOX. It still gets 4.6% of takeoff mass to orbit compared to 2% for SpaceX StarShip.

SpaceX Starship should be flying very soon. SpaceX StarShip When LNG was $600/ton would have fuel for each launch at a cost of $640,000. Unfortunately, LNG (liquid Natural gas) prices have gone up by a factor of 4 due to the War in Ukraine.

19 thoughts on “UK Progress to Space Plane”

  1. Hm… So they could bring about twice as much percentage payload to orbit compared to a SpaceX rocket. But at what cost? The relevant metric is dollar per ton to orbit, and the complex motors and cooling of the spaceplane probably makes it impossible to compete on that metric with SpaceX. Even when the technology is fully developed.
    Sorry, this is a waste of money….

    • I love SpaceX rockets but they don’t need to be the sole providers of access to space.

      Situation which we very much risk to have, at least for the West. China is doing their homework and Russia space industry is basically belly up.

      There is a point where maintaining a billion dollars launcher boondoggle just for “backup” will get a bit ridiculous.

      Skylon can one day shine even if it’s only for taking people to space in a more familiar way.

  2. Meh. Probably easier to transition Virgin Galactic’s sub-orbital carrier-plane idea to ‘orbital’ plan than moving forward with this.

  3. No,natural gas did not go up four times in the US. We are not idiots like the Europeans who won’t extract what is under their feet!

    • I think it would be a bit more accurate to say that our current government DOES consist of those self-same idiots, but haven’t been at it long enough yet to take things as far as Germany has.

      They’ve already made things hostile enough to fossil fuel extraction companies that they’ve basically halted all investment in new refineries.

      • I don’t see it that way, the hostile environment towards carbon fuel sources that conservatives are always ranting about. I see a ridiculously cheap replacement in the form of renewables that is quite literally, handing other energy sources their asses on a platter, and consequently, sucking up all the VC money in the process. They just can’t compete with the almighty buck.

        • … yep, price of energy is really cheap in both Germany and California, bastions of green energy. Oh wait, they actually have some of the highest prices with green energy heavily subsidized by consumers and taxpayers.

          • Europe ran out of time. It’s that simple. The Russian energy mess descended upon them before the could finish their roll out replacement energy sources. As for California, there’s plenty of power, and even a future surplus seeing how much the recent first time offshore wind auction brought in. They’re going to be exporting power out in a short few years. The now under construction utility battery storage will suck up all that cheaply installed over capacity solar. Just the facts.

  4. Been following this for several years, now, well before 2020. I wonder how long it’ll be until an operable prototype? Incredibly exciting.

    • I know I’ve been reading about spaceplanes for much longer than that, probably since 2010 at least. Way cool idea. We’ll probably have commercial fusion first. That’s really why spaceX is spectacular. Things actually happen. And reusable rockets!

    • Unfortunately, probably another thirty years. The original engineer of the Skylon Engine, Alan Bond, founded Reaction Engines Limited in 1989, and retired in 2017 reaching only as far as the prototype of the heat exchanger (funnily, Wiki’s infobox on the company says “products — heat exchangers”). Now, certainly the heat exchanger is an important part of the engine, but it’s not the only challenge they will be facing in building it. And that is if, with the founders and their vision retired, the company doesn’t simply pivot to Earthbound industrial uses (and probably changes name to Heat Exchangers Limited).

      I would like nothing better to be proven wrong. I’d gladly wear the egg on my face. Unfortunately, I don’t think I will.

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