Space engine investment
BAE Systems has paid £20.6 million for a 20 per cent stake in Reaction Engines, the company developing a hybrid rocket/jet engine called Sabre that could propel aircraft into space.
Reaction Engines, based at Abingdon in Oxfordshire, says the technology would allow the launch of satellites into space at a fraction of the current cost and allow passengers to fly anywhere in the world in four hours.
The British government is also investing £60 million in the firm which hopes to have a ground-based test engine working by the end of this decade and begin unmanned test flights by 2025.
Reaction Engines has already designed its own plane called Skylon which could use the radical new engines to take off from a runway and accelerate to more than five times the speed of sound, before switching to a rocket mode which would propel the aircraft into orbit.
“Today’s announcement represents an important landmark in the transition of Reaction Engines from a company that has been focused on the research and testing of enabling technologies for the Sabre engine to one that is now focused on the development and testing of the world’s first Sabre engine,” said Mark Thomas, managing director.
One of the key challenges faced by the company’s engineers is how to manage very hot air entering the engine at high speed, which has to be cooled prior to being compressed and burnt with onboard hydrogen.
They have developed a module containing arrays of extremely fine piping that can extract the heat and plunge the in-rushing air to about minus140C in just 1/100th of a second.
Nigel Whitehead, group managing director of programmes and support at BAE Systems, said: “Reaction Engines is a highly innovative UK company and our collaboration gives BAE Systems a strategic interest in a breakthrough air and space technology with significant future potential.”