Who remembers the Concorde, the iconic, supersonic airliner that could take passengers from New York to London in less than three hours? Slashing journey times in half was indeed a mighty impressive feat, but that’s nothing compared to the aircraft that British aerospace firm Reaction Engines is currently working on. Their new engine system will allow passengers to travel anywhere in the world in just four hours. Yes, you could get from New York to Hong Kong, or London to Sydney, in just four hours. Oh, and the engine will also allow crafts to fly in outer space, too.
The new system that the firm is working on is called SABRE, which is a jet engine that also doubles as a rocket engine. In a commercial plane, this could whizz 300 passengers around the world at Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, “pretty easily,” according to chief engineer Alan Bond. The ambitious spaceplane the company is working on, “SKYLON,” could propel the craft into orbit at 25 times the speed of sound.
As explained by Bond in a new video released by Reaction Engines, the only truly unique thing about the engine is the precooler device they’ve been working on. The SABRE engine “breathes” in atmospheric air, capturing some 1,250 tonnes that are then used in the engines. This air is then cooled from more than 1,000oC (1,832oF) to -150oC (-238oF) in just 0.1 seconds, an “astronomical” cooling rate of 400 megawatts.
This air-breathing ability means that 250 tonnes of oxygen can be captured from the atmosphere for use in the combustion process, reducing the amount of oxygen that has to be carried in propellant tanks. This overcomes the weight issue that has limited the design of crafts such as this in the past.
If the company is successful in developing their planes, the SABRE engine could transform high-speed aviation. Not only would it dramatically reduce flight times around the world, but it could also provide cost effective access to space. Their reusable spaceplane SKYLON would take off from a runway, just like a commercial aircraft, before turning into a rocket to fly into orbit. After doing whatever job was assigned, such as delivering 15 tonnes of cargo, the craft would return for a runway landing, all at a fraction of the cost of using existing technology. And given the success of tests so far, it might not be too long before SKYLON is realized. In fact, the first test flights are planned for 2019.
The company is also investigating the possibility of using the same craft to take passengers into space. Such a journey is predicted to cost some $435,000, although this will significantly drop over time. Unfortunately, passengers might not get the views they’ve dreamed of as the plane won’t have any windows. However, design teams are already working on technology that will project spectacular, panoramic views from the outside onto screens covering the inside of the cabin.
Check out this video from Reaction Engines for more info: