Economy

Reaction Engines hypersonic flight tech passes important milestone

Reaction Engines hypersonic flight tech passes important milestone

The time milestone reached in testing is equivalent to flight speeds of Mach 3.3, or more than 2,500 miles per hour, the company said.

Reaction Engines has recently been testing a "pre-cooler" for the plane, which is technology that would allow it to travel faster than ever before.

Sabre is a new type of flexible engine for propelling high speed aircraft and spacecraft - image courtesy of Reaction Engines.

British engineers have made a breakthrough in their effort to develop a "spaceplane" that could travel between NY and London in less than an hour.

Reaction Engines' precooler heat exchanger successfully achieved all test objectives in the first phase of high-temperature testing created to directly replicate supersonic flight conditions and future tests are planned at even higher temperatures.

They hope to get their SABRE engine precooler to the point where it can handle air temperatures in excess of the 1,000 degrees Celsius (~1,800 degrees Fahrenheit) experienced at Mach 5.

Reaction, based in Oxfordshire, believe that the aircraft could travel the distance between NY and London in less than an hour when running at it's proposed top speed. The precooler technology is a potential enabling technology for advanced propulsion systems and other commercial applications.

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The testing milestone was passed at the Reaction Engines' TF2 test facility at the Colorado Air and Space Port in the US.

According to Mr Thomas, the firm's ability to keep the engine cool is a major revelation for the industry - Concorde famously reached speeds of Mach 2, which he says "was tolerable, but already the aircraft was getting quite hot".

Before it blasts into space, the engine "breathes" air, like a normal jet - but has to compress the oxygen to 140 atmospheres to burn it along with the hydrogen fuel it carries. The ground-based test saw Reaction Engines' precooler bring down the 420°C (788°F) intake airflow in under 1/20th of a second.

The goal is to incorporate this technology into their Sabre engine, which would work like an "air breathing rocket engine".

The key is a pre-cooler heat-exchanger, which cools the air until it's nearly a liquid before it is burned, using a network of pipes.

At high speeds and at high altitude, it would transition to full rocket mode, combining the fuel with the oxygen carried inside.

Mark Thomas, the Reaction Engines chief executive, told the Times: 'If you can pull it off, it's a game changer.


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