Hypersonic Rocket Engine Passes Testing Milestone

Lloyd Doyle
April 12, 2019

The Synthetic Air Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE) designed by Reaction is created to get an attached space vehicle up to Mach 5.4 before switching to liquid oxygen and accelerating to Mach 25 to send a spacecraft into orbit.

Reaction Engines, which is based in Oxfordshire, has tested a "pre-cooler" - a technology that could allow aircraft to travel faster than ever before - at simulated speeds of Mach 3.3, or more than three times the speed of sound.

The company's ultimate ambition is to incorporate the pre-cooler into its experimental Sabre engine. Reaction Engines Ltd. designed the engine to take airliners around the world in few hours and drive space planes to orbit. Reaction envisages an aircraft that could travel the distance between NY and London in less than an hour - or, at even faster speeds, take people or payloads into space and return to Earth...

Brit firm Reaction Engines has successfully tested its engine design's precooler heat exchanger - a key step on the path to getting its SABRE donk up and into space.

And though this is, of course, light years - or decades at least - away, according to Reaction, but the technology does have some more immediate uses for industries such as motorsport, as well as oil and gas.

The breakthrough test was conducted at the company's newly opened TF2 test facility at Colorado Air and Space Port. The precooler technology is a potential enabling technology for advanced propulsion systems and other commercial applications.

Until now, heat has been a limiting factor for how fast aircraft can travel, including Concorde which traveled at two times the speed of sound.

Before it blasts into space, the engine "breathes" air, like a normal jet - but has to compress the oxygen to 140 atmospheres to burn it along with the hydrogen fuel it carries.

Sabre can be considered a hybrid of a jet engine and a rocket engine.

Mark Thomas, chief executive, Reaction Engines, commented: "This is a hugely significant milestone which has seen Reaction Engines' proprietary pre-cooler technology achieve unparalleled heat transfer performance". In supersonic and hypersonic flight, air reaching the engine intake gets extremely hot, and an engine that can't manage that heat is going to fail in spectacular fashion. At higher speeds and altitude, it would then transition to its rocket mode, combining the fuel with a small supply of oxygen the vehicle had carried in flight.

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