REL to conduct technical discussions with ESA Launch Directorate
Astrium Space Transportation and OHB AG will lead two consortia to produce designs for the next-generation ESA rocket, the New European Launch System (NELS). The competition included a surprise third bidder in the form of the UK firm Reaction Engines, designers of the Skylon SSTO spaceplane. Although the Reaction Engine bid was not selected for NELS, ESA found it sufficiently impressive to direct the launcher directorate to start technical discussions with the firm.
“Their [REL's] proposal did not quite fit the requirements of our solicitation so we could not really assess it,” ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain said during the Farnborough Air Show. “But we have seen some things that could be of interest and our launcher directorate will begin talks starting July 18 to see if we can reach a technical understanding.”
It is becoming clear that ESA officials have become alarmed at threats to the future commercial prospects of Ariane in a market that may become dominated by new low-cost US launch providers such as SpaceX. SpaceX officials say one of the keys to its success is that Falcon 9 is built in one factory owned by SpaceX.
“That’s not building an industry, it’s just building a company,” scoffed one official with a commercial rocket supplier competing with SpaceX.
Reaction Engines Ltd. , a UK based company, has successfully completed another series of tests of the key component for a new engine, SABRE, that will enable aircraft to fly anywhere on Earth in under 4 hours, or directly into space and back to deliver satellites and other cargo.
The SABRE engine is capable of operating as a jet engine and a rocket engine, powering aircraft at up to five times the speed of sound within the atmosphere or directly into Earth orbit at twenty-five times the speed of sound. Its ground-breaking technology – an air pre-cooler - is designed to cool continuously the incoming airstream from over 1,000⁰C to minus 150⁰C in less than 1/100th of a second (six times faster than the blink of an eye), effectively doubling the current technical limits of jet engine speeds.
The tests, undertaken at Reaction Engines’ facility in Oxfordshire, integrated the ground-breaking flight-weight pre-cooler technology with a jet engine and a novel helium cooling loop, demonstrating the crucial new technologies in the SABRE engine. This success marks another major advance towards the creation of vehicles like SKYLON – a revolutionary reusable space vehicle that will be powered by SABRE engines, designed primarily to transport satellites and other cargo into space.
Through this second series of testing, Reaction Engines has proven the following features of the SABRE’s key pre-cooler component, demonstrating:
aerodynamic stability and uniformity
freedom of vibration across a wide range above and beyond the flight envelope
preliminary cryogenic cooling.
The third and final series of demonstration will commence next month, with the pre-cooler
operating at very low temperatures, i.e. -150⁰C.
David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science said:
“The engine being developed by Reaction Engines is a potential game-changer in terms of space technology. This successful testing validates the assessment made of the engine concept by the UK Space Agency back in 2010 and is yet another example of the UK’s world class space industry. It would be a fantastic achievement if we could one day use this home-grown technology for our own commercial space launches.”
Since 2009, the European Space Agency has been involved, through a combined public and private venture-funded programme, in the development of technology for the SABRE engine and their current view is that “whilst still in the early stages of testing, the initial results for pre-cooling look promising. Also, as of today, ESA does not foresee any technical reason why the current test programme cannot be successfully completed by autumn 2012”.
SABRE has taken a team of over 30 British engineers 22 years to develop. Alan Bond, who founded Reaction Engines and has led the research from the start, said:
“Over the past two centuries, travel and transport has been powered by the steam engine, the internal combustion engine and, most recently, jet and rocket engines. The SABRE engine is the next logical step. SABRE will enable an aircraft to fly anywhere in the world in under 4 hours or a spaceplane to fly into orbit around the Earth – slashing the cost of space travel and creating new commercial opportunities in space. Thanks to the professionalism, expertise and dedication of the incredible team we have at Reaction Engines, this breakthrough puts the UK aerospace industry in pole position”.
Reaction Engines Ltd. is currently exhibiting at the Farnborough Airshow 2012, between 9-15th July, and the highlight of the display is the actual SABRE cooling assembly used in the latest series of breakthrough tests.
Pre-cooler testing at B9 Phase 1 successfully completed
The first phase of the pre-cooler test programme has been completed successfully and the test cooler is currently being disassembled, inspected and re-assembled in a new configuration for the second phase of testing.
The testing was reported on the BBC news at 6 o’clock and 10 o’clock on Friday 27th April and on the BBC website.