Engine for British spaceplane tested

Nov. 29, 2012 at 7:23 PM
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CULHAM, England, Nov. 29 (UPI) -- A British company developing an engine for a new type of spaceplane says it has successfully tested a key technology of the engine.

Reaction Engines Ltd. conducted a series of tests on key elements of its Sabre propulsion system, intended to power a spaceplane that would reach Earth orbit like a rocket but operate like an airliner, taking off and landing on a conventional runway.

The Skylon vehicle is designed to burn a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen, taking in oxygen the way a conventional jetliner does while still in the atmosphere. Skylon would switch to burning onboard supplies of rocket fuel once it attains very high speeds.

While in Earth's atmosphere the Sabre engine will have to manage the extremely hot air entering its intakes at high speed, cooling it before it is compressed and ignited with the onboard hydrogen fuel.

The solution by REL engineers involves an array extremely fine piping that can extract the heat and cool the incoming air to minus 220 degrees Fahrenheit in 1/100th of a second. The cooling technology was successfully tested under the watchful eyes of the European Space Agency, the BBC reported Wednesday.

The United Kingdom Space Agency had asked ESA's propulsion division to audit the tests, which the ESA said were successful.

"With this now successfully demonstrated by REL, there are currently no technical reasons why the Sabre engine program cannot move forward into the next stage of development," the ESA said.

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