Published: Fri, April 12, 2019
Markets | By Otis Pena

Reaction Engines’ SABRE air-breathing rocket engine passes crucial test

Reaction Engines’ SABRE air-breathing rocket engine passes crucial test

A British company developing a rocket engine that can combust using oxygen from the air, as opposed to carrying liquid oxygen like traditional rockets, says it's passed a "significant milestone" for supersonic flight.

A scientific breakthrough could mean an end to long-haul flights after boffins discovered a way to stop engines from melting when they travel at 25 times the speed of sound.

Reaction Engines has recently been testing a "pre-cooler" for the plane, which is technology that would allow it to travel faster than ever before.

Instead of huge multi-stage rockets, a relatively light plane will take off from a conventional runway and reach space in a single journey without a pilot.The engine could also make possible passenger flights from London to Australia in just over four hours - and drive airliners with twice the speed of Concorde.

Testing was conducted at the Colorado Air and Space Port in the United States and involved replicating the thermal conditions of a flight at Mach 3.3 - the fastest speed flown by the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane. With an average speed just above Mach 2 (1,354 mph), the Concorde's fastest Transatlantic trip between NY and London occurred in 1996, lasting just 2 hours 52 minutes and 59 seconds.

Reaction Engines' milestone is the result of about 30 years of work by the company's founders, Alan Bond, Richard Varvill, and John Scott-Scott, the Financial Times reported.

The heat exchanger technology has a wide range of potential commercial applications and the ability to revolutionise the approach to thermal management across a range of industries; from aerospace to motorsport, industrial processes, and the oil and gas industry.

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The European Space Agency, the UK Space Agency and BAE Systems are working with Reaction Engines on the creation of the super plane.

The key is a pre-cooler heat-exchanger, which cools the air until it's nearly a liquid before it is burned, using a network of pipes.

This is a significant milestone, but the SABRE engine is still just a concept.

From take-off to Mach 5.5, the Sabre would draw oxygen from the atmosphere where it would be ignited in a rocket combustion chamber alongside stored liquid hydrogen.

The unique precooler has reportedly quenched a 420°C intake airflow successfully in less than 1/20 of a second.

At low altitude and low speeds, it would behave like a jet, burning its fuel in a stream of air scooped from the atmosphere.

"If you can pull it off, it's a game changer".

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