Space Plane Scheduled for ’20

Space Plane Scheduled for ’20

The British government has decided to invest £60 million pounds into an aircraft capable of taking people into space or having British citizens fly to Australia in under 4 hours. SKYLON is the space plane that will feature two Synergetic Air Breathing Engines as the engine power plants. Other investors include the European Space Agency and private investments.

The SKYLON aircraft is designed in the shape of a blended delta wing configuration to a rocket like fuselage with the two SABRE engines mounted to power the aircraft. The SABRE engine burns hydrogen and oxygen for its thrust from the atmosphere. The projected top speed of the SKYLON is estimated at speeds over Mach 5 to take the space craft into orbit. Other possible functions of the SKYLON include space satellite transport and taking consumer travel to orbital viewing stations.

The key technology to the SABRE engine is its heat exchanger. Before the engine switches to rocket mode for orbital purposes, the incoming air will be cooled from 1000 degrees C to -150 degrees C in 0.01 seconds. This drastic temperature change will require 400 megawatts of thermal energy. This technology was successfully tested and confirmed by the ESA in 2012.

Reaction Engines, the aerospace company responsible for the SKYLON plans for the initial test flight to occur in 2020 after the completion of the engine prototypes in 2017. The initial testing of the engines will occur on another prototype aircraft from Reaction Engines called the Nacelle. Complete development of the aircraft will require the input of many various companies thus the financial backing from the British government shows faith in this revolutionary task.