10 May 2012
Engine testing for Skylon
Reaction Engines Ltd (REL) of Culham in Oxfordshire has begun tests on a new engine technology designed to put a space-plane into orbit. The proposed Skylon vehicle is intended to operate like an aircraft, taking off from at a conventional runway. Its major innovation is the Sabre engine, which can ‘breathe’ air like a jet at lower speeds, then switch to rocket mode.
The Sabre is part jet engine, part rocket engine: it burns hydrogen and oxygen to provide thrust, but the oxygen is initially taken from the atmosphere. This should allow Skylon to go straight into orbit without the need for the multiple propellant stages seen in existing rockets.
REL will approach investors to raise the £250 million needed to take the project into the final design phase. Managing director Alan Bond said: “We intend to go to the Farnborough International Air Show in July with a clear message — that we can reduce the world to 4hr, which is the maximum time it would take to go anywhere. Aircraft will go into space, replacing all the expendable rockets we use today.”