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Rolls-Royce and Boeing invest in hypersonic space engine


Reaction Engines Limited, a UK firm, has recently taken investments from both Rolls-Royce and Boeing to continue development of its hypersonic, single-stage to orbit (SSTO) SABRE (Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine) engine.

Traditionally, placing something into orbit requires an immense waste — and therefore cost — as booster rockets are ejected during staging. These boosters fall back into the ocean to be refurbished and, in most cases, reused. Fuel tanks are jettisoned after orbit which eventually burn up on re-entry. This waste is central to SpaceX’s development of self-returning booster rockets. An SSTO is capable of reaching orbit without any additional booster stages.

The Sabre engine will feature two separate modes; a conventional jet engine capable of reaching Mach 5.5 (5.5 times the speed of sound) and a rocket-propelled mode which will power the spaceplane for the remainder of the ascent. The closed-cycle, liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen burning rocket mode will potentially allow a spaceplane to reach orbital velocity after leaving the atmosphere.

Sabre engines are not limited to placing spacecraft into orbit – applications of the engine could extend to traditional air flight – allowing aircraft to reach speeds that have so far been out of reach.

The Sabre engine concept is not new, with conceptual work dating back to the 1980s. However, with Rolls-Royce and Boeing positioning themselves as strategic partner/investors, this is big news for the futuristic engine.

Reaction Engines is set to open a test facility at Westcott later this year.

More information on Reaction Engines