After years of minimal space exploration, the U.K. government decided to invest £60 million — or over $90 million — into a revolutionary “spaceplane” called Skylon.
Reaction Engines, a privately held British company, designed SABRE (Synergistic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine) — the cutting edge engine intended to power the peculiar spacecraft that has caught the interest of the United Kingdom Space Agency.
Skylon boasts an avant-garde design unmatched by any other plane currently in commission, and has the ability to travel to the Earth’s stratosphere within 15 minutes. With a cap speed of 19,000 mph, the plane could safely transport passengers from London Heathrow to Australia’s Sydney Kingford Smith Airport in just four hours.
Skylon differs from other commercial spacecrafts, such as Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactica, because it is the only space-traveling plane that is capable of standard runway take off and landing. The plane’s ability to fly to the stratosphere while adhering to standard aviation procedures will likely make it the most cost-efficient method for commercial space travel so far.
Universities and Science Minister David Willetts plans to announce the investment publicly at the UK Space Conference in Glasglow, Scotland — an event that lasts until Wednesday.
“SABRE has the potential to completely transform how we access space,” Willetts said. “By supporting this breakthrough technology we are giving the UK a leading position in a growing market of new generation launchers and removing one of the main barriers to the growth of commercial activity in space.”
Pre-2010 space exploration was of relatively low significant to the UK government, and the National Space Programme had only sent a single satellite via a British rocket into space. However, since the agency’s renaming in 2010, the National Space Programme (now United Kingdom Space Agency) has started to advance at a rapid rate.
On March 18, the UK announced that they would be offering £2 billion — or over $3 billion — for the advancement of the UK aerospace industry.
The government also plans to sign a £134 million contract with Astrium Tuesday for the development of an advanced line of weather satellites.