Reaction Engine to Provide Breakthrough in Hypersonic Flights; Hopes to Go Halfway Around the World in 6 Hours

December 3, 2012, By Sanjeev Ramachandran

Halfway around the world in less than 6 hours! Sounds like a scene in a James Bond flick, right? But fortunately, the possibility of this coming to reality is not far away.

Reaction Engines Limited assures us that their newest engine is capable of achieving speeds around mach 5 which is more than enough to attain the target of traveling from US to Tokyo in 6 hours. So how do these guys do this? Let’s check it out.

The major problem that prevents engines from attaining these speeds is the availability of enough oxygen and the consequent temperature rise. Reaction Engines utilized the inclusion of a pre-cooler to mitigate this crisis.

Designed to chill engine inlet air by more than 1,150C (2,100F) in less than one hundredth of a second, the pre-cooler is one of the key enabling technologies at the heart of the SABRE (Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine).

The hybrid propulsion system is designed for either atmospheric transport at speeds around Mach 5 or as the air-breathing element of a single-stage-to-orbit space-plane aka Skylon.

Having fought for credibility for more than two decades, the small UK-based team behind the development of Skylon and its combined-cycle rocket engine are seeing growing interest in the technology, as crucial tests of the pre-cooler element continue at its site near Oxford, England.

Though the concept of breaking Mach 5 barrier is not new, no one has so far succeeded in implementing a rocket-based combined-cycle propulsion system that derives the oxidizer from the atmosphere.

This is why the main focus for the initial testing is on the pre-cooler and anti-frost systems; the basic feasibility of both was confirmed during independent audits carried out in 2011 by experts from the European Space Agency.

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