Ultrafast, air-breathing rocket engine moves a step closer

Ultrafast, air-breathing rocket engine moves a step closer

Once the jet has reached the atmosphere, it would draw in cold air which is then fed into a rocket-propulsion system where it is ignited with liquid hydrogen.

The SABRE engine is created to reach speeds above Mach 5 in the Earth's atmosphere, and will then be able to turn into a rocket that can fly through space at up to Mach 25. There is an appetite to bring back supersonic flight and possibly even push into hypersonic speeds.

It would travel at Mach 3.3 or more than three times the speed of sound.

The Synergetic Air Breathing Rocket Engine (Sabre) relies in a "pre-cooler" which allows air to enter the engine without melting it.

"This is a hugely significant milestone which has seen Reaction Engines' proprietary precooler technology achieve unparalleled heat transfer performance", said Mark Thomas, CEO of Reaction Engines.

The SABRE engine is made by a small United Kingdom company, REL, which has been perfecting the technology for 20 years - and whose founder believes that it could transform our world into "something out of science fiction".

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

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".

The company's engine can cool air from 420 degrees Celsius to room temperature in less than a second, the company said.

"In this most recent experiment, we've near-instantaneously transferred 1.5 Megawatts of heat energy - the equivalent of 1,000 homes" worth of heat energy'.

The tests kept the engine cool at speeds of up to 2,500 miles per hour. That corresponds to Mach 5 hypersonic flight. While only in the concept stage at the moment, Kevin Bowcutt, senior technical fellow and chief scientist of hypersonics at Boeing, believes that these aircraft could be in the air in the next 20 to 30 years.

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