Reaction Engines’ SABRE air-breathing rocket engine passes crucial test

Andrew Cummings
April 12, 2019

Reaction Engines' precooler heat exchanger successfully passed the test objectives set out in the first phase of high-temperature testing.

The Sabre air-breathing rocket engine, reportedly over 3 times faster than speed of sound, has been successfully tested by the United Kingdom engineers.

Specialists at Reaction Engines say they have created a "pre-cooler", which worked at simulated speeds of Mach 3.3 - or 2,509 miles per hour to the laymen - meaning hypersonic travel could be on the horizon.

The new experimental engine would be called Sabre and would work like an "air breathing rocket engine". If so, it could cut flight time between London and NY to under an hour.

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.

Reaction Engines' precooler heat exchanger successfully achieved all test objectives in the first phase of high-temperature testing created to directly replicate supersonic flight conditions and future tests are planned at even higher temperatures.

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.

And though this is, of course, light years - or decades at least - away, according to Reaction, but the technology does have some more immediate uses for industries such as motorsport, as well as oil and gas.

"The significant testing milestone occurred at Reaction Engines" recently commissioned TF2 test facility located at the Colorado Air and Space Port, US. The precooler technology is a potential enabling technology for advanced propulsion systems and other commercial applications.

Pre-cooling air entering the engine is essential at higher speeds because the effects of friction and compression on air travelling at supersonic speeds makes it extremely hot.

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. The ground-based test saw Reaction Engines' precooler bring down the 420°C (788°F) intake airflow in under 1/20th of a second.

Sabre can be considered a hybrid of a jet engine and a rocket engine.

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

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