Simon Read — The Independent Nov 2, 2015
This is the new super-plane. Why is it in the news?
The UK government has pumped £60m into a next-generation engine that will apparently make low-cost space travel possible for commercial customers.
Really? Will we be exploring the final frontier by Christmas?
Not quite. The new ‘Sabre’ engine – a hybrid rocket and jet propulsion system which theoretically allows travel anywhere on Earth in four hours or less – is still at least a decade away. However a full ground-based engine test is planned for 2020.
Who’s making it?
A company called Reaction Engines – which is based at Culham Science Centre in Oxfordshire – has been given a £60m grant by the government to help it develop and build the Skylon super-plane. The cash will also be used to help change the company from being mainly research-based to testing and eventual commercial applications.
Anyone else excited about it?
Aerospace giant BAE is snapping up 20 per cent of the company for £20.6m. BAE and Reaction will form a “working partnership… to progress towards the demonstration of a ground based engine”.
What’s the science behind it?
The super-plane will rely on cooling an incoming airstream from 1,000 degrees C to minus 150 C almost instantly, at close to 1/100th of a second. It will double the technical limits of a jet engine, and allow the craft to reach, up to five times the speed of sound, before switching to a rocket engine to reach orbit.