BAE Systems is paying £20.6m (US$31.6m) for a stake in Reaction Engines, which is developing Sabre, a hybrid jet engine/rocket. According to Reaction Engines, the Sabre technology would allow the jet part of the engine to operate up to Mach 5 after which it could switch to rocket power to Mach 23. This 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 also announced it was investing £60m (US$92m) in the company which is based at the Culham Science Centre near Abingdon in Oxfordshire, England.
These investments will allow construction of a ground-based test engine to be working by the end of this decade and then to begin unmanned test flights by 2025. Reaction Engines also has a design for an aircraft powered by their engines, the ‘Skylon’.
According to Reaction, an aircraft using such engines could 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.
One of the challenges is to manage the very hot air entering the engine at high speed. These gases have to be cooled prior to being compressed and burnt with onboard hydrogen.
Reaction engineers have developed a module containing arrays of extremely fine piping that can extract the heat and drop the inrushing air to about -140C (-220F) in just 1/100th of a second-new technology such as this that Reaction and BAE believe could put them ahead of the competition.