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BBT March/April 2019 cover
March/April 2019

‘Revolutionary’ aircraft engine set for testing

A concept drawing of a hypersonic aircraft that could use the Sabre engine designed by Reaction Engines

A project to create the world’s first ‘air-breathing’ hypersonic engine that could propel an aircraft from London to Sydney in around four hours is set for testing within the next 18 months.

Manufacturer Reaction Engines has received endorsement for its ‘revolutionary’ Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (Sabre) core design by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the UK Space Agency (UKSA).

The two agencies have reviewed the preliminary design of the Sabre engine that Reaction Engines will use to undertake ground-based testing at its facility in Westcott, Buckinghamshire, which is currently under construction.

Reaction Engines says it will shortly begin testing its ‘HTX’ pre-cooling heat exchange element in Colorado, which will determine if that component can stand up to the 1,000°C expected to be seen by the Sabre engine during flight.

If the engine is successful, it could also propel reusable vehicles into orbit without the need for multiple propellant stages required for conventional rockets, meaning the concept can be applied to both in-atmosphere aircraft and spacecraft.

Sabre is capable of Mach 5.4 speed within the Earth’s atmosphere and Mach 25 in space, according to Reaction Engines.

To put this into perspective, sound travels at Mach 1 or 343 metres per second in air.

The company has raised more than £100 million from public and private sources over the last four years, including investment from BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and Boeing’s venture capital arm.

Mark Ford, head of the ESA’s propulsion engineering department, commented: “The positive conclusion of our preliminary design review marks a major milestone in Sabre development. It confirms the test version of this revolutionary new class of engine is ready for implementation.”

Reaction Engines’ CTO Richard Varvill said: “One of the great advantages of the Sabre propulsion concept is that it is totally modular from both design and operational perspectives. Therefore it is possible to subject each of the key components of the engine to rigorous ground testing, which fully mimics the operational conditions the engine will face up to Mach 5 flight at 25km altitude.”

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