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SABRE milestone keeps UK at sharp end of space research

Oxfordshire’s success in the space sector is continuing to take off, with the UK engineers developing a novel propulsion system – a cross between a jet engine and a rocket engine – saying their technology has passed another key milestone.

The team at Oxfordshire-based Reaction Engines Ltd (REL) are developing a new hypersonic propulsion system – the Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE™). SABRE engines will enable aircraft to fly over five times the speed of sound in the atmosphere and allow space launch vehicles to be built that will improve the affordability of access to space.

In recent tests, REL’s new ultra-lightweight heat exchangers, developed to stop engine components from overheating at high flight speeds, have shown the ability to handle the simulated conditions of flying at more than three times the speed of sound.

In testing conducted at the Colorado Air and Space Port in the US the technology successfully quenched a 420C stream of gases in less than 1/20th of a second. The REL group is now confident its “pre-cooler” technology can go on to perform in conditions that simulate flying above five times the speed of sound, or Mach 5.

The Oxfordshire company is developing SABRE with the support of UK aerospace heavyweights BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce, along with US-based Boeing. It also has a £60m funding commitment from the UK Government via the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency.

The UK is already a major player in aerospace, with intentions to increase its share of the world space market to 10% by 2030. The UK Space market was worth £13.7bn to the economy in 2014/5, and has tripled in size since 2000.

Oxfordshire has become a global hotspot for science innovation and high technology, as part of the UK’s so-called Science Vale. REL is based in the Culham Science Centre, owned and managed by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, home to advances in fusion power as well as commercial technologies ranging from robotic handling equipment, to advanced materials.

It is alo near the Harwell Space Cluster, a gateway to the UK space sector, including the European Space Agency, RAL Space, Satellite Applications Catapult and the UK Space Agency. Harwell is also home to the Science & Technology Facilities Council, with over £2 bn of infrastructure for both public and private research and development.

Global space companies such as Airbus Defence & Space, Lockheed Martin and Thales Alenia Space have established a presence at Harwell, with activities ranging from the design of propulsion subsystems to satellite navigation systems. These are joined by a range of SMEs from start-ups in the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre to growing companies such as Oxford Space Systems, Deimos Space UK, Rezatec and Neptec.

REL will be exhibiting at the UK Space Conference, the most important and influential event for space in the UK, taking place 24 – 26 September 2019 at the International Convention Centre (ICC) in Wales.

REL’s CEO Mark Thomas said the heat exchanger technology has wide application, not just in high-speed flight, but across the aerospace industry, and in motorsport, industrial processes, and the energy industry.

(via BBC News, Reaction Engines, Harwell)