Air-Breathing Rocket Engine Gets Green Light for Major Tests

Posted: April 18, 2019 by oldbrew in innovation, News, Travel

The makers claim that ‘global and orbital travel will never be the same’.

A new air-breathing rocket engine is ready for a major round of testing in the next 18 months after having passed a preliminary design review by the European Space Agency (ESA), reports

The Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE), which is being developed by the U.K. company Reaction Engines, can switch between two modes.

In aircraft-engine mode, it uses oxygen from the atmosphere, and in rocket-engine mode, it burns an oxidizer carried onboard together with the fuel liquid hydrogen.

The technology, deemed particularly promising for suborbital spaceflight and supersonic intercontinental travel, could one day revolutionize space transportation, advocates say.

The engine uses atmospheric air up to an altitude of 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) before switching to rocket mode. The launch vehicle, or space plane, would therefore need to carry less oxygen and so could be lighter and cheaper.

SABRE is also designed to be reusable, which could offer further cost reductions.

“The positive conclusion of our preliminary design review marks a major milestone in SABRE development,” Mark Ford, the head of ESA’s Propulsion Engineering section, said in a statement. “It confirms [that] the test version of this revolutionary new class of engine is ready for implementation.”

The testing of the demonstrator engine core will take place in Westcott, in the English county of Buckinghamshire, at a new facility that is currently being built by Reaction Engines.

The company previously received 10 million euros ($11.3 million at current exchange rates) from ESA and 60 million euros ($67.8 million) from the U.K. government to fund the development of the technology.

ESA earlier helped Reaction Engines validate the design of the so-called precooler, an essential component of SABRE, which cools the hot airstream entering the engine at hypersonic speed during the aircraft-like portion of SABRE’s operation.

Full report here.

  1. ivan says:

    I seem to remember Reaction Engines showing off the static test firing of the core of the engine at their works over three years ago so this could be a report that has been pulled from the files in an effort to show that the UK should not leave the EU.

  2. tom0mason says:

    Ho-hum, looks like someone has been watching reruns of Thunderbirds.
    And Brains confirms it —
    “Ah-that sh-sure looks like Thunderbird 1, err, m-Mr. Tracy.”


  3. ivan says:

    Everything most probably started again when BAE took over in 2015, prior to that they were a British operation, now they have offices and test facilities in the US. As far as I can find there might be only one of the founders of Reaction Engines still working there but this is normal, the British are the ones that have the original ideas and then the money comes in and takes over and everything falls apart.

  4. Gamecock says:

    ‘A new air-breathing rocket engine’

    Fuhchristsake! If it’s breathing air, it ain’t a rocket!

    If you come up with a combo rocket/jet, it is a combo rocket/jet, NOT AN AIR BREATHING ROCKET!

    ‘In aircraft-engine mode, it uses oxygen from the atmosphere, and in rocket-engine mode, it burns an oxidizer carried onboard together with the fuel liquid hydrogen.’

    Exactly, being independent of the oxygen of the air is what makes it a rocket.

    From the provided illustration, there is no sign of a compressor. One wonders how ‘aircraft-engine mode’ works – maybe that’s the real breakthrough.

  5. The V1 was an air breathing ram jet.