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British engineers invent revolutionary new space plane

Posted on 21 November 2012

British engineers have made the biggest breakthrough in flight technology since the invention of the jet engine.

Abingdon, Oxfordshire-based Reaction Engines have successfully tested
a new propulsion system that could power a space plane to orbit and
also cut an airliner’s journey times from London to Sydney to less than
four hours at Mach 5.

It also has the potential to be used with current aeroplanes, which
could improve fuel efficiency by up to 10%, saving airlines about $20bn a
year.

Their ultra-lightweight heat exchangers are one hundred times lighter
than existing technologies and allow the cooling of very hot airstreams
from over 1,000°C to -150°C in less than 1/100th of a second.

Philippa Oldham, head of transport and manufacturing at the
Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said in response to the
announcement: "Keeping the engine from overheating has been one of the
biggest obstacles to developing the SABRE engine, a technology which
would enable flying speeds of up to five times the speed of sound, or as
much as 25 times the speed of sound in Earth’s orbit.

“This new heat exchanger is able to control the SABRE engine
temperature, which will have a great impact on UK aerospace engine
industry. It also brings us a step closer to flights from London to
Sydney that last just a little longer than an on-flight film or even
two-week holidays in space.

“The fact that this technology is being developed in the UK is also
hugely encouraging and demonstrates the talent and expertise there is in
this country for manufacturing high value and high-tech goods.”

The SABRE has been developed over two decades by Reaction Engines. The technology includes:

Ultra-lightweight heat exchangers
Advanced rocket nozzles
Combustion chamber design
Contra–rotating turbines
Lightweight airframe structures
Robust lightweight thermal protection systems
Engine and vehicles analysis software tools.

It paves the way for the next step towards their reusable space plane called Skylon to be built, which could travel at Mach 25.

It will mean low-cost reusable aircraft-like access to space,
operating from the runway to orbit and back, while delivering an order
of magnitude reduction in cost compared to existing technology and much
greater reliability.