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article imageAn air-breathing rocket engine gets green light for major tests

By Karen Graham     Apr 19, 2019 in Technology
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).
U.K. aerospace manufacturer Reaction Engines, based in Oxfordshire, England was formed in 1989 to design and develop the technologies needed for a new class of innovative hypersonic propulsion system – the Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine or SABRE.
The SABRE is rather unique in that it can switch between two modes - In the aircraft engine mode, it uses oxygen from the atmosphere, while in the rocket-engine mode, the engine burns an oxidizer carried onboard together with liquid hydrogen fuel. Like jet engines, SABRE can be scaled in size to provide different levels of thrust for different applications
“The core can be tested on the ground, but it’s the core that gets you air-breathing from the ground up to the edge of space, at which point there is no more oxygen to breathe and the system transitions to the pure rocket mode,” said Shaun Driscoll, Reaction Engines’ program director, according to The BBC, reports Futurism.
Engine airflow in the SABRE
Engine airflow in the SABRE
The European Space Agency first got involved with this in 2010. By November 2012, Reaction Engines announced it had successfully concluded a series of tests that prove the cooling technology of the engine, one of the main obstacles towards the completion of the project.
The ESA evaluated the SABRE engine's pre-cooler heat exchanger and accepted claims that the technologies required to proceed with the engine's development had been fully demonstrated.
“The positive conclusion of our preliminary design review marks a major milestone in SABRE development,” Mark Ford, heading ESA’s Propulsion Engineering section, said in a statement. “It confirms the test version of this revolutionary new class of engine is ready for implementation.”
Revolutionizing space travel
The technology is not only promising for suborbital spaceflight and supersonic intercontinental travel, but advocates say that one day, SABRE technology could revolutionize space travel.
Precooler testing for SABRE engine
Precooler testing for SABRE engine
SABRE is uniquely designed to scoop up atmospheric air during the initial part of its ascent to space at up to five times the speed of sound (Mach 5). At about 25 km it would then switch to pure rocket mode for its final climb to orbit.
More importantly, Reaction Engine's heat exchanger technology will also change the way we can achieve thermal management across a range of industries, from aerospace to motorsport, industrial processes, and the energy industry, says the company.
There is a great deal of anticipation in testing a demonstrator engine within the next 18 months. Reaction Engines is building a new testing facility in Westcott, in the English county of Buckinghamshire.
The ESA said launchers equipped with SABRE could be up to 50 percent lighter than current launchers and possibly offer a higher launch rate due to their reusability.
More about Sabre, rocket engine, airbreathing, Esa, scalable
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