Graham Turnock, head of the UK Space Agency announced on October 8, a Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE), which will take just 4 hours to fly from London to Sydney. The Oxfordshire-based Reaction Engines technology which is supposed to be developed by the 2030s will ideally shorten flight durations by 80% according to reports released by the agency. The UK Space Agency announced Tuesday at UK Space Conference 2019 that it would be working more closely with the Australian Space Agency in an agreement dubbed as the world's first Space Bridge. The SABRE engine looks to be the jewel in the crown of this new enterprise.
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Since Concorde stopped flying in 2003, people have been trying to break the sound barrier in supersonic flights. Reaction Engines announced successful tests of a precooler, simulating conditions at Mach 3.3, or more than three times the speed of sound in April 2019. This will be more than 50% faster than the cruising speed of Concorde which used to make the journey between New York and Paris in around 3.5 hours and matches the speed record of the fastest jet aircraft ever made, the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. The tests took place at a testing facility at the Colorado Air and Space Port in the United States.
Earlier tests saw that at such high speeds, air flowing through the engine can reach incredibly high temperatures potentially cause damage. But with the invention of precooler, the temperature of gases reduced before they enter the core engine itself. According to a media statement from Reaction Engines, recent tests prove that the component can cool gases from over 1,000 C to ambient temperature in less than 1/20th of a second. Mark Thomas, Reaction Engines' CEO said to media that the invention is a hugely significant milestone that has seen Reaction Engines' proprietary precooler technology achieve unparalleled heat transfer performance. He added that the HTX [precooler] test article met all test objectives and the successful initial tests highlight how our precooler delivers world-leading heat transfer capabilities at low weight and compact size. The scientist also emphasized on the fact that the technology could also be used in hybrid electric aviation as well as very high-speed flight.
The SABRE engine's technology can be explained vividly in fluid dynamics in which the Mach number is a dimensionless quantity representing the ratio of flow velocity past a boundary to the local speed of sound. The engine is designed to reach speeds above Mach 5 in the Earth's atmosphere, and will then be able to turn into a rocket that can fly through space at up to Mach 25. What adds to its efficiency is the fact that it breathes air from the atmosphere, allowing greater fuel efficiency and lower weight than existing rocket engines that need to carry their own oxygen supply.
Shaun Driscoll, Program Director at Reaction Engines, told the UK Space Conference that SABRE is like a hybrid of a rocket engine and an aero engine, so it allows a rocket to breathe air. He added that rockets really haven't progressed in 70 years, whereas aero engines have become very efficient, so if you can combine an aero engine and a rocket you can have a very lightweight efficient propulsion system and basically create a spaceplane. Reaction Engines has received more than £100 million ($130 million) in funding over the past four years, as well as securing investment from important industry players such as BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and Boeing HorizonX. The first ground-based demonstration of a SABRE engine air-breathing core will be located in Buckinghamshire in the UK where the company is finalizing the construction of a test facility.
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