Monday, April 16, 2018

SABRE Surges Ahead With New Investments from Boeing, Rolls Royce & BAE Systems

          By Brian Orlotti

Oxfordshire, UK based Reaction Engines Limited (REL) has announced that it has raised £26.5 million GBP ($48Mln CDN) from three of the most powerful and influential firms in aerospace to support its development of the synergistic air-breathing rocket engine (SABRE), a revolutionary new type of engine combining jet and rocket technologies. The move bodes well for the burgeoning space industry and the opening of the space frontier.

As outlined in the April 12th, 2018 REL press release, "Reaction Engines secures £26.5m investment from new industrial and financial investors," the new investors include:
  • Manchester, Lancashire based Rolls-Royce, the legendary UK based aerospace manufacturer.
  • Farnborough, UK based BAE Systems, the defence, aerospace and security giant, which had previously invested £20.6Mln GBP ($37Mln CDN) in REL in 2015.
These new investments bring the total capital raised by REL in the last three years to over £100Mln GBP ($180Mln CDN), including UK government funding. This capital will move the SABRE development program forward, with the objective of ground-testing a SABRE engine in 2020.

REL is currently building a new facility in Westcott, Buckinghamshire, UK for this purpose.

In 2011, REL had secured $350Mln USD ($446.5Mln CDN) from the UK government for SABRE. In July of 2013, the UK government pledged an additional £60 million GBP ($118.5Mln CDN), enabling a full-scale prototype of SABRE to be built.

By 2015, REL had attracted attention in the US, with the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Wright Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB), throwing its support behind SABRE by offering the use of its facilities to support the engine’s development.

Also, in September 2017, REL signed a contract with the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to conduct testing of SABRE’s heat exchanger.

The SABRE is being developed by REL to propel its planned Skylon single-stage-to-orbit space plane at hypersonic speeds (Mach 5.5+ or approximately 6800km per hour) while in Earth's atmosphere, then switch to a purely rocket mode (around Mach 27+ or just over 33,000 km per hour) in order to reach low Earth orbit.

Once in orbit, the craft would deposit its payload of up to 15 tonnes in a 300 km equatorial orbit, then reenter the atmosphere (protected by a ceramic composite skin) and land on a runway. Skylon could also carry up to 11 tonnes of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).

In addition to its cargo-carrying potential, REL also stresses the SABRE’s advantages for commercial passenger aircraft. In the 2000’s, the EU funded the long-term advanced propulsion concepts and technologies (LAPCAT) I and II studies, which examined the potential for hypersonic aircraft.

The studies showed that hypersonic airliners would be capable of flying from London, UK to Sydney, Australia in 4.6 hours, compared to 22 hours for an Airbus A380.

The key to SABRE's ability to function as both aircraft and rocket ship is a complex heat-exchanger system that allows oxygen to be drawn directly from Earth's atmosphere to oxidize the on-board hydrogen fuel.

The SABRE's heat-exchanger (using methanol as an antifreeze) chills incoming air from more than 1,000C to -150C in less than 1/100th of a second before passing it through a turbo-compressor and into the rocket combustion chamber, where it is then burned with liquid hydrogen.

Maybe someone should give this guy some money. Canadians are also involved with researching the next generation of single stage to orbit (SSTO) space planes. As outlined in the May 30th, 2016 post, "The 'Most Interesting Man in the World' is Building a SSTO Spacecraft in Edmonton," AB based Space Engine Systems (SES), under the leadership of CEO Pradeep Dass, is also working on the project. For his assessment of how the SpaceX Falcon-9 compares with the proposed SES DASS GNX engine, check out the SES web-page on the topic. Graphic c/o Commercial Space Media.

With REL now on secure financial footing, other game-changing firms like Hawthorne, CA based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) are also raising new funds.

Hot off the success of its Falcon Heavy rocket, SpaceX is seeking to raise up to $507Mln USD ($636Mln CDN) in a new funding round, according to documents filed with the US state of Delaware two weeks ago.

As outlined in the April 12th, 2018 Geekwire post, "Elon Musk’s SpaceX aims to raise $500M as it makes progress on its Big F’n Rocket," SpaceX has authorized 3 million shares of stock for this Series I round, valued at $169 USD ($212 CDN) each.

This round could bring SpaceX to a valuation of approximately $23.7Bln USD ($30Bln CDN) if all shares are sold.

With REL’s game-changing technology entering the fray, the space frontier will open faster than ever before.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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