Ever fancied going to Australia but been put off by the 24-hour flight? Well, by 2030 you might be able to get there in just four hours.
Graham Turnock, head of the UK Space Agency, has confirmed that a hypersonic aircraft is being developed in Britain. Reaction Engines, an Oxford-based aerospace manufacturer, is building the hybrid hydrogen-powered invention that can propel a plane more than twice the speed of Concorde.
Shaun Driscoll, from Reaction Engines, commented, “It’s like a hybrid of a rocket engine and an aero engine, so it allows a rocket to breathe air. Rockets really haven’t progressed in 70 years, whereas aero engines have become very efficient. So, if you can combine an aero engine and a rocket you can have a very lightweight efficient propulsion system and basically create a space plane”.
Since Concorde was axed in 2003 following a catastrophic crash, the supersonic commercial flight has been a distant memory. Now, the Sabre (Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine) is expected to slash flight times from London to New York to just an hour, and London to Sydney to four hours, as well as being a far cheaper and greener option than current air travel.
The space plane is expected to take off horizontally, reaching 4000mph for commercial travel, or 19,000mph when switched to rocket mode for space travel.
A significant issue with high-speed travel is the melting of engine parts through intense engine temperatures. The Sabre engine can counteract this by using small tubes of liquid gases, including helium, to cool incoming air from 1,000C to -150C in one-hundredth of a second.
The Best is Jet to Come
With Boeing, BAE Systems and Rolls Royce all matching a £60m government investment, it seems the space plane has significant backing to get off the ground.
The team at Reaction Engines are currently running trials on the ground in Denver and Colorado, and hope to begin test flights in the mid-2020s, with the aim of running commercial flights in the 2030s.
Turnock commented, “This is not sci-fi. This is not a pipe dream. This is literally in the works. It has the potential to turn air travel on its head. Certainly, the way you conceive air travel will completely change in ten years’ time”.
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