The Year 2020: British Space Plane Engine Will Get A Test Flight

In 2020 the new British space plane engine will get it’s first test flight. The SKYLON concept vehicle consists of a slender fuselage containing propellant tankage and payload bay, with delta wings attached midway along the fuselage carrying the SABRE engines in axisymmetric nacelles on the wingtips. The vehicle takes off and lands horizontally on its own undercarriage.

The British government and European Space Agency (ESA) are providing $100 million in funding, which will be matched by private financing to complete the propulsion system’s development and test.

Two Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engines (SABRE) will power the Skylon space plane – a privately funded, single-stage-to-orbit concept vehicle that is 276 feet (84 meters) long. At take-off, the plane will weigh about 303 tons (275,000 kilograms).

The 2020 flight test will follow the completion of a prototype of the space plane engine by 2017, according to the UK government’s minister for universities and science David Willetts.

At the UK Space Conference 2013 in Glasgow, Scotland, Willetts said: “£60 million ($90 million) has been committed to begin building the SABRE prototype. We expect to see the completion of the prototype SABRE by 2017 and flight tests around 2020.”

Reaction Engines’ SABRE development program plans to flight-test the engine using an unmanned aircraft called the Nacelle Test Vehicle. The entire development program will require a consortium of companies, and Reaction Engines has been seeking partners as well as financiers.

SABRE burns hydrogen and oxygen for thrust, acting like a jet for Skylon’s flight through the thick lower atmosphere, taking in oxygen from the atmosphere to combust it with onboard liquid hydrogen. But when the Skylon space plane reaches an altitude of 16 miles and five times the speed of sound (Mach 5), it switches over to its onboard liquid oxygen tank to reach orbit.

By 2017, the UK government expects that SABRE’s design will be done, ground demonstrations of engine technology carried out; a flight test of the SABRE rocket nozzle achieved; and improvements to the heat exchanger technology and manufacturing capability accomplished.

In 2020 be on the lookout for the newest space plane engine to be tested in our solar system thanks to British engineering.