Is it a plane? Is it a rocket? Well, actually it’s both! The hybrid of a jet and rocket engine may be the future star of the aerospace industry. It is a ground breaking technology that will combine an ultrasonic jet able to travel more than 3,800 miles per hour or five times the speed of sound, with a rocket engine with enough power to send the same aircraft to space.
What Will It Be Able to Do?
Capable of hypersonic speeds, the SABRE could potentially get a traveler to anywhere on the globe within four hours. BAE Systems, a UK based company invested in Reaction Engines, a company that has been working for 20 years on SABRE.
The engine uses air breathing technology to burn hydrogen fuel like an ordinary jet. When the plane gets up to MACH 5, or five times the speed of sound, it can then go into its rocket operation and travel into space. On its return to earth, SABRE would have the capability to change rocket power back to jet power and land just like a conventional aircraft on a standard runway. This feature would do away with the enormous expense of replacing single-use disposable rocket stages that are in use today.
The Future and Some Challenges
In addition to the 32 million BAE has invested in the Reaction Engine, the government of the UK will come to the table with 90 million for research and development and a testing program for the engine. It is planned that by 2020, there will be an engine prototype demonstrator on the ground and a flying prototype by 2025. The hope is that barring any major roadblocks to the project, we could possibly see a SABRE spacecraft making flights within about 10 years. Hypersonic global travel, although exciting, is more of a challenge than is the space travel. Complex technological and safety concerns put this idea further in the future.
Animation showing the features of the SABRE engine and the Precooler
Animation showing some of the operational capabilities of the SKYLON spaceplane.