U.K. company Reaction Engines signed a funding deal with the European Space Agency (ESA) on Wednesday to develop a jet engine that could fly at five times the speed of sound, or roughly 4,000 miles per hour.
The $11 million project, called SABRE (Synergistic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine), will not only allow passenger planes to travel at supersonic speeds, it also has uses for space travel, according to an article published by inhabitat.com Wednesday. Reaction Engines says on their website that the SABRE engine would do away with “250 tons of on-board oxidant on their way to orbit” and “removes the necessity for massive throw-away first stages that are jettisoned.”
As for Earth-bound travel, being able to cruise at nearly 4,000 miles per hour means you could fly around the world in about six hours. Inhabitat.com notes that a flight from Brussels to Sydney that used to take 21 hours, would only take 4.6 hours with the SABRE engine.
With ESA funding, Reaction Engines hopes to have their SABRE engine ready for a demonstration by the end of the decade.
So far, Reaction Engines has received $11 million from the ESA, $66 million from the British government and another $55 million from the U.K. Space Agency (UKSA), according to People’s Daily Online.
“We’ve had valuable support from ESA and UKSA to date,” Mark Thomas, Chief Executive Officer of Reaction Engines, told People’s News Daily. “We are now entering an exciting phase where we can accelerate the pace of development to get Sabre up and running.”
Not only would the new engine allow aircraft to travel at nearly 4,000 miles per hour, it would also fly at nearly triple the altitude of conventional passenger planes. Passenger planes currently fly at about 35,000 feet, while the SABRE engine attached to a plane dubbed LAPCAT, would fly at altitudes up to 92,000 feet, according to The Daily Star.
Reaction Engines hopes to utilize a re-usable plane for space travel that has been dubbed “Skylon.” Skylon would be able to carry cargo such as satellites and would be able to take off and land just like a regular plane, drastically altering the way we get to and from space. It would also drastically cut back on the cost of getting to space, as there would no longer be a need to build new rockets for each mission.
Current rockets destined for space have to carry liquid oxygen for power, a costly undertaking. The SABRE engine would create its own liquid oxygen from the atmosphere by cooling the air from 1,000 degrees Celsius to -150 degrees Celsius in a split-second to avoid any formation of ice crystals that could damage the engine.
“We want the UK to be the best place in Europe to innovate,” Katherine Courtney, Chief Executive Officer of the U.K. Space Agency, told People’s Daily News. “The Sabre engine programme has the potential to change air and space travel forever.”
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