Space R&D

I spend my last 10 working years at Reaction Engines. As head of test facilities I led the test team running a test site to develop the SABRE engine Pre-Cooler.

The test site has the capability of subjecting test articles from 1000 deg.C down to -196 deg.C and operating up to 200 bars (2,900 psi).

These test carried out on the test site demonstrated the first flight capacity heat exchanger to cool the air down to -150 deg.C without freezing, a world first.

This technology will enable a jet engine to run at hypersonic speeds (~Mach 5) this is key technology requirement for the SABRE engine.

Space is only about 100 miles away. If  you travel by train it would cost you about £1 a mile but with current technology traveling that 100 miles into space would cost you around £10,000 a mile. There are several factors for these high  cost which include:
  • Limited re-usability of rocket components (image flying a plane once and then throwing it away)
  • Not only having to carry the fuel but also the oxidiser.
  • Rocket reliability. on aircraft the failure rate is in the order of 1 in 1,000,000 flights with rockets its in the order of 1 in 50 flights.
Reaction Engines is working to address the current space access issues with its SKYLON Space Plane and its SABRE engine.

The SABRE Engine

SABRE engine

The SABRE engine is a hybrid engine that combines the efficiency of a jet engine and the power of a rocket engine.
The engine is designed to breath air in the initial assent utilizing its jet engine style air compressor whilst it is the earths atmosphere. Above the earths atmosphere the SABRE engine transfers to rocket mode.

The SABRE engine is designed to run up to mach 5 in air breathing mode. At MACH 5 the air temperature exceeds 1000 deg,C (at this speed a normal JET engine would be destroyed). The SABRE engine can survive these temperature to to it unique pre-cooler heat exchanger cooling the incoming air from 1000 deg.C to sub zero temperatures in 1/100 of a second. This condition the air to such an extent that the compressor intake  does not see supersonic air. In cooling the air hundreds of mega watts of energy are captured by the engine and used to power parts of the engine increasing its efficiency.
Normal rocket carry their own oxidizer normal in the form of liquid oxygen but the SABRE engine saves it self around 300 tons of oxygen by air breathing.

Below is the simplified engine cycle. Cooling is extracted (via helium loop and heat exchangers) from the liquid hydrogen fuel to cool down the air the heat extracted from the air is then used to drive the turbo compressor compressing the air before it is mixed with the hydrogen fuel in the combustion chamber (rocket)

On transitioning to rocket mode the compressed air is replaced with LOX (liquid oxygen)

SABRE engine cycle


SKYLON is a concept space plane utilising the SABRE engine. It is designed to take off and land vertically on a long runway.
The whole of SKYLON is designed to be fully reusable with a working life of 200 flights. Its mission it to get 15 ton payload into near earth orbit.
Like the space shuttle it is designed to return to earth initially slowing down as it hits the earth’s atmosphere with its heat shield. Then it makes its final decent in a glide similar to the Space Shuttle but because of its superior aerodynamics it has a far wider flight envelope. Anther advantage of the plane design is its launch abort capability.
As with all space vehicles the fuselage (about 300 feet long) is dominated by the fuels but due to its air breathing capabilities it liquid oxygen tanks are a lot smaller.

SKYLON cutaway

General characteristics
•    Crew: None, remote controlled from ground
•    The proposed Skylon Personnel/Logistics Module (SPLM) has provision for a Captain.
•    Capacity: 0
•    up to 24 passengers in the SPLM
•    Potential for up to 30 passengers (in a special passenger module)]
•    Payload: 15,000 kg nominal (33,000 lb nominal)
•    17,000 kg (37,000 lb) to equatorial 160 km (99 mi) orbit from equatorial launch site
•    approx 2,800 kg (6,200 lb) to 98° (sun-synchronous) 600 km (373 mi) orbit from equatorial launch site
•    Length: 83.133 m  (272.75 ft)
•    Wingspan: 26.818 m (87.99 ft)
•    Height: approx 13.5 m (44 ft)
•    Empty weight: 53,400 kg  (117,000 lb)
•    Loaded weight: 325,000 kg  (717,000 lb)
•    Powerplant: 2 × SABRE 4 synergistic combined cycle rocket engine, 2,000 kN (450,000 lbf) each
•    Fuselage diameter: 6.3 m (20.67 ft)
•    Maximum speed: Orbital (air-breathing Mach 5.14, rocket Mach 27.8)
•    Service ceiling: 28,500 m air-breathing, 90 km SABRE ascent, 600 km exoatmospheric (93,500 ft air breathing, 56 mi rocket ascent, 373 mi exoatmospheric)
•    Specific impulse: 4,100 seconds (40,000 N-s/kg)-9,200 seconds (90,000 N-s/kg) air-breathing, 460 seconds (4,500 N-s/kg) rocket, 465.2 seconds (4,562 N-s/kg) orbital
•    SABRE engine thrust/weight ratio: up to 14 atmospheric

Reaction Engines    A space technology company specializing in heat exchanger and the air breathing rocket engine SABRE

UK Space Agency 
The UK Space Agency funds a variety of space missions and programmes.

The European Space Agency
The European Space Agency (ESA) is Europe’s gateway to space. Its mission is to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space continues to deliver benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.