Reaction Engines Ltd. is pleased to announce that analysis undertaken by the United States’ Air Force Research Laboratory (‘AFRL’) has confirmed the feasibility of the Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (‘SABRE’) engine cycle concept.
The analysis was undertaken by AFRL as part of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (‘CRADA’) with the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Aerospace Systems Directorate (AFRL/RQ). These investigations examined the thermodynamic cycle of the SABRE concept and found no significant barrier to its theoretical viability provided the engine component and integration challenges are met.
Reaction Engines Ltd. and AFRL are now formulating plans for continued collaboration on the SABRE engine; the proposed work will include investigation of vehicle concepts based on a SABRE derived propulsion system, testing of SABRE engine components and exploration of defence applications for Reaction Engines’ heat exchanger technologies.
AFRL/RQ program manager Barry Hellman stated - "The activities under the CRADA have allowed AFRL to understand the SABRE engine concept, its pre-cooler heat exchanger technology, and its cycle in more detail. Our analysis has confirmed the feasibility and potential performance of the SABRE engine cycle. While development of the SABRE represents a substantial engineering challenge, the engine cycle is a very innovative approach and warrants further investigation. The question to answer next is what benefit the SABRE could bring to high speed aerospace vehicles compared to other propulsion systems. Although application of the SABRE for single stage to orbit space access remains technically very risky as a first application, the SABRE may provide some unique advantages in more manageable two stage to orbit configurations. Furthermore, the heat exchanger technology also warrants further investigation for applications across the aerospace domain."
Sam Hutchison, Director of Corporate Development at Reaction Engines Ltd commented - “The confirmation by AFRL of the feasibility of the SABRE engine cycle has further validated our team’s own assessment and conviction that the SABRE engine represents a potential breakthrough in propulsion that could lead to game changing space access and high speed flight capability. We look forward to continued collaboration with AFRL”.
SABRE is an innovative class of aerospace propulsion that has the potential to provide efficient air- breathing thrust from standstill on the runway to speeds above Mach 5 (4,500mph) in the atmosphere – twice as fast as jet engines. The SABRE engine can then transition to a rocket mode of operation for flight at higher Mach numbers and space flight. Through its ability to ‘breathe’ air from the atmosphere, SABRE offers a significant reduction in propellant consumption compared to conventional rocket engines which have to carry their own oxygen – which is heavy. The weight saved by carrying less oxygen can be used to increase the capability of launch vehicles including options for high performance reusable launch vehicles with increased operational flexibility, such as horizontal take-off and landing. Additionally, the SABRE engine concept could potentially be configured to efficiently power aircraft flying at high supersonic and hypersonic speeds.
26th January 2015: Reaction Engines Ltd announces company growth and completion of first SABRE development milestone.
This year, 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.
Alan Bond, Managing Director and Chief Engineer at Reaction Engines Ltd, commented:
“The technology we’ve proven, and our ability to integrate it with both rockets and gas turbines to create SABRE is not just a means to a better rocket. This is the beginning of a new generation of propulsion, enabling faster, more efficient transportation both on Earth and in Space. We’re already seeing humanity gaining huge benefits from space-enabled services, and I believe that our connection with space will grow considerably in the near future; Reaction Engines are breaking down the biggest barrier, which is getting into orbit in the first place. We’re opening the gateway to the solar system.”
The IET is staging a lecture by Dr Robert Bond, Corporate Programmes Director of Reaction Engines, at Huntingdon Hall in Worcester on 16th October.
"The SKYLON Space plane, powered by revolutionary SABRE rocket engines, has the potential to transform access to Space. This lecture will explore the prospects it offers for a single-stage-to-orbit launch vehicle with aircraft-like operation and will discuss work currently underway in the UK and Europe to demonstrate the engine and vehicle technology."
Another Skylon overview, this time by CNN. Bond is quoted as saying that test flights could take place as early as 2018. David Baker of the British Interplanetary Society highlights the importance of a high flight rate in making a reusable system efficient and affordable.
Rocketeer comments: Baker: The concept of reusability could be "absorbed into the commercial world in the next decade or two". I think it could happen significantly faster than that, given that we're just a few months away from the first barge landing of an F9R boost stage, and Musk plans to refly a returned stage in 2015.
The Oxford Mail reports that upcoming expansion in engineering, manufacturing and administration roles for Reaction Engines will create 100 new jobs. The firm already employs 45 people at its main site at Culham, Oxfordshire, with 15 others based in Wantage and Newbury, Berkshire.
Given the recent European Space Agency S-ELSO study indicating that Skylon is 'financially feasible', the Engineer magazine polled its readership on what the next course of action should be. A plurality of respondents (35%) thought that Skylon should be fully funded by ESA as its next launcher system.