First major test for world's first 'space plane' passed

Reaction Engines SABRE Core Team

Sabre is meant to be much lighter than a conventional rocket engine because it would carry less fuel-oxidant.

United Kingdom company Reaction Engines announced successful tests of a precooler on Monday, simulating conditions at Mach 3.3, or more than three times the speed of sound.

Mach 3.3 matches the speed record of the SR-71 Blackbird aircraft, the world's fastest jet-engine powered aircraft produced to date and is over 50% faster than the cruising speed of Concorde.

The company's ultimate ambition is to incorporate the pre-cooler into its experimental Sabre engine.

However, unlike jet engines, Sabre can also operate in a rocket mode outside of the atmosphere, and this could potentially offer the next generation of reusable space launch vehicles.

Carrying out the tests at a centre in Colorado, Reaction used a General Electric J79 turbojet engine to replicate the conditions for hypersonic speeds.

The Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE) design uses "pre-cooler" technology to stop critical parts from melting as it hits the awesome supersonic speeds.

A revolutionary 'air breathing' space plane could one day blast passengers from London to NY in less than an hour, after it passed a key hurdle this week.

Reaction Engines' milestone is the result of twenty years' work by the company's founders Alan Bond, Richard Varvill and John Scott, the Financial Times' reported.

The Times reports pre-cooler lowers the temperature of compressed air rushing through an engine from more than 1,000C to room temperature in one twentieth of a second.

There are three core elements to the Sabre engine; the pre-cooler, the engine core that has a a smart thermodynamic cycle to manage heat and fluid flow, and the thrust chamber situated at the rear.

Here, it would be ignited along with stored liquid hydrogen and then switch at high altitude, burning liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen from on-board fuel tanks.

It did this by successfully quenching a 420°C (788°F) stream of gases in less than 1/20th of a second.

Reaction said this morning that its precooler heat exchanger had "successfully achieved all test objectives in the first phase of high-temperature testing created to directly replicate supersonic flight conditions".

"This is a hugely significant milestone which has seen Reaction Engines' proprietary precooler technology achieve unparalleled heat transfer performance", Mark Thomas, the company's CEO, said in a press release.

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