Skylon spaceplane that will take tourists into orbit at five times the speed of sound could be a reality by 2025 after getting £26 million in funding
A revolutionary spaceplane that could take tourists into orbit at five times the speed of sound could be ready by 2025 thanks to a funding boost.
Dubbed Skylon, the plane will use an ‘air-breathing’ jet engine capable of sending it to the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere in just 15 minutes.
It will then switch to rocket power to stay in orbit, according to Reaction Engines Limited (REL), which is hoping to beat the likes of Nasa in building the world’s first ‘hypersonic’ engine.
In a statement today, Oxfordshire-based REL announced a major new joint £26.5 million ($37m) investment in the technology, with contributions from Boeing and Rolls Royce.
The investment puts the aircraft’s first flight on track for 2025 provided ground tests of REL’s engine – set to begin in 2020 – are successful.
REL’s latest funding boost takes the total capital it has raised over the past three years to £100 million ($140m).
‘Rolls Royce and Boeing – these are really big names, and it’s fantastic to be in this position,’ REL CEO Mark Thomas told BBC News.
‘Rolls are super-positive about the technology. They want us to be independent and innovative, and to push our technology as hard as possible.
‘And Boeing – that’s amazing. They are the world’s biggest aerospace company, have decades of expertise and future plans that, for us I’m sure, will be really exciting.’
REL is developing what it calls the Sabre engine, a turbine designed to fire aircraft from the runway to orbit in a single step.
It would work like a jet engine up to Mach 5.5 (5.5 times the speed of sound or 1.9 km per second) before switching to a rocket mode for the rest of the ascent.
In its rocket flight configuration the aircraft could reach speeds of Mach 25, or around 5.3 miles per second (8.5 km per second).
Sabre works by burning atmospheric air in combustion chambers, creating heat that then turbo-charges the engine.
At the moment, rockets and spaceplanes have to carry liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen to power them, a heavy and therefore expensive burden.
The new engine creates its own liquid oxygen by cooling air entering the engine from 1,000°C to minus 150°C in a hundredth of a second – six times faster than the blink of an eye – without creating ice blockages.