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SABRE on course to chill SKYLON into orbit

By

July 13, 2012

SABRE is a crucial part of Reaction Engine's plans for the SKYLON spaceplane

SABRE is a crucial part of Reaction Engine's plans for the SKYLON spaceplane

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Reaction Engines has announced that is has successfully tested the key pre-cooler component of its revolutionary SABRE engine crucial to the development of its SKYLON spaceplane. The company claims that craft equipped with SABRE engines will be able to fly to any destination on Earth in under 4 hours, or travel directly into space.

The SABRE engine is capable of operating either as a jet or a rocket, powering aircraft, Reaction Engines claims, at five times the speed of sound within Earth atmosphere, or at 25 times the speed of sound flying directly into orbit. The key to this level of performance is the engine's pre-cooler, which Reaction Engines claims will chill air from over 1000º C (1832º F) to -150º C (-238º F) in under 1/100th of a second.

Cut-away of Reaction Engines' SABRE engine

Cut-away of Reaction Engines' SABRE engine

The pre-cooler technology was the subject of the latest tests, and Reaction Engines claims its prototype, which is already down to flight-weight, demonstrates the necessary structural integrity, aerodynamic stability and lack of vibration necessary. Though the engine's pre-cooling tests are described as preliminary, further tests commencing in August will push this component to the performance ultimately required.

It has taken a team of more than 30 engineers 22 years to get the SABRE engine where it is today. The cooling assembly used in the engine is on display at the Farnborough Airshow until Sunday July 15.

Reaction Engine's explanatory video of the SABRE engine can be seen below.

Source: Reaction Engines (PDF)

About the Author
James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life.   All articles by James Holloway
13 Comments

I think like a lot of people who read about this stuff FOR YEARS, it's been readily apparent that the big problem with air breathing multimach supersonic jets is heat. heat destroys everything. you could say its vibration or whatever else, but the designers have figured out ways of dealing with just about everything except the heat problem, because you cannot slow down air in the combustion chamber without creating excess heat at these speeds, it's difficult enough to make a skin or coating that can resist the heat for even short periods of time. read about the famous fastest production plane ever , the blackbird, and it was the heat --or rather the highly costly process of cooling the plane---that was its undoing ( that and the rise of cheaper sattelites for the same basic purpose of spying ) .

i'm not very convinced this thing above will work, i know very little about it, but having read about all the other strategies out there that scram jets contend with when dealing with the heat of friction coming from directing air into the engine ( using coolant to cool the combustion chamber, or using precooled fuel , i find this a fascinating intriguing approach----cooling the air before it enters the combustion chamber.

for the first time reading about scram jets---i'm finally going to say , it might work this time. and if it does, the military is going to be billions over it--particularly in light of the recent failed tests ( in my opinion they were p.r. failures at the very least ) of its unmanned hypersonic wedge looking scram jet.

zevulon
13th July, 2012 @ 08:39 am PDT

The SABRE engine is a rocket it is just that they figured out how to liquify oxygen in aerodynamic flight to feed it.

Slowburn
13th July, 2012 @ 01:14 pm PDT

Looks like about 70% of the volume of the plane is liquid H2 storage. I really wonder what use this plane is. Small payload area. Cargo? Passengers?

Brian Hall
15th July, 2012 @ 12:05 pm PDT

@zevulon:

iirc, the 'plane' uses liquid hydrogen as fuel. It pumps the liquid h2 through and around the engine in order to keep it cool (and liquify the air).

Harshad Srinivasan
15th July, 2012 @ 03:02 pm PDT

No. Nitrogen has to be cooled to -196C to become liquid and oxygen has to be cooled to -182.96C to become liquid. The incoming air is only cooled to -150C. There is stored LOX for use in space however.

Peter McArthur
15th July, 2012 @ 03:23 pm PDT

If this technology works out it will revolutionise getting into space. I have been following this company for several years, it sounds almost too good to be true, but it has the stamp of approval of the ESA and others, so I remain hopeful. I would love to know how they avoid the pre coolers icing up, they have been keeping tight lipped about this.

Bob64
15th July, 2012 @ 08:22 pm PDT

@zevulon...

1. Cool name! I sometimes use "Spankulon" when gaming against my mates lol

2. I've got to be careful because I seriously want this to work but I am more hopeful - I see these as simply a series of technical problems that can, in principle at least, eventually be solved. I believe that the SCRAM jets being prototyped by the US and Australia use the actual fuel as coolant - running it through galleries in the hottest parts of the engine/nozzle etc allowing it to heat up before being burnt in the combustion section.

Hogey74
15th July, 2012 @ 08:28 pm PDT

If you read the full press release on their website, you'll see that this technology ALREADY enables jet engines the technology to double their speed.....

JPAR
16th July, 2012 @ 04:27 am PDT

Single-stage-to-orbit here we come!

PeetEngineer
16th July, 2012 @ 10:48 am PDT

Can anyone tell me why its banana-shaped? is it to keep the plane within orbit as it goes soooo fast around the globe?

agulesin
17th July, 2012 @ 05:00 am PDT

Reminds me of the LACE - "Liquid Air Combustion Engine".

James Donohue
25th July, 2012 @ 09:01 am PDT

@Peter McArthur

True at atmospheric pressure. Not likely the case inside the engine.

Chris Walker
28th July, 2012 @ 07:34 pm PDT

@agulesin

The only reason I could think of is its primarily designed to get out of orbit as soon as possible given the amount of power available, since going up straight is not an option without booster rockets, vectoring the thrust downwards makes the whole plane a massive wing and makes it a simpler system (KISS). The canards on the nose would primarily be for pointing the nose in the right direction while there's still a reasonable amount of air present. After entering LEO, steering is relegated to the manoeuvring thrusters in the tail.

malJohann
17th July, 2013 @ 04:36 pm PDT
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