It seems the geniuses behind Reaction Engines Ltd. (REL) may finally be getting their wish. What is described as "a strategic investment and working collaboration" by BAE Systems will enable REL to accelerate development of SABRE (synergistic air-breathing rocket engine), an engine that combines both jet and rocket technologies "with the potential to revolutionize hypersonic flight and the economics of space access."
SABRE has been under development by REL since the company was formed in 1989 to design a new class of engines that will enable aircraft to operate from standstill on the runway to speeds of over five times the speed of sound in the atmosphere. SABRE can then transition to a rocket mode of operation, allowing spaceflight at speeds up to orbital velocity, equivalent to twenty five times the speed of sound.
Through its ability to breathe air from the atmosphere, SABRE offers a significant reduction in propellant consumption and weight compared to conventional rocket engines that have to carry their own oxygen.
A key element of SABRE engine technology is REL-developed ultra-lightweight heat exchangers that allow the cooling of very hot airstreams from over +1000°C to -150°C in less than 1/100th of a second (six times faster than the blink of an eye, says REL) while preventing the formation of ice at sub-zero temperatures. REL’s technology has undergone extensive independent technical assessments, which have confirmed its viability and potential vehicle applications.
The working partnership will draw not only on BAE's £20.6 million investment but its extensive technology development and project management expertise and will provide REL with access to BAE's critical industrial, technical, and capital resources. The ultimate goal is to progress toward the demonstration of a ground-based engine, considered a key milestone in the development of the technology, with REL in particular looking to transition from its successful research phase into development and testing of the engine, including plans to expand its engineering workforce.
“Our partnership with Reaction Engines is part of our sustained commitment to investing in and developing prospective emerging technologies," said Nigel Whitehead, Group Managing Director, Programs & Support, BAE Systems. "BAE Systems’ engineering and development expertise will help support the delivery of the first demonstrator for the SABRE engine.”
The viability of the SABRE engine has been independently validated by the European Space Agency during a review undertaken at the request of the U.K. government.