Reaction Engines, a UK-based company, has been given $90.6 million by the government to produce an air-breathing engine that, if successful, would allow aircraft to go directly into space and cruise at speeds five times the speed of sound within the atmosphere.
The SABRE engine is the first of its kind to operate in two rocket modes: an air-breathing mode and subsequently in conventional rocket mode. The unique air-breathing mode sucks in atmospheric air as a source of oxygen (like a typical jet engine) to burn with its liquid hydrogen fuel in the rocket combustion chamber. It can then, like normal rockets, use on-board liquid oxygen for additional boost.
“The unique engine is designed to extract the oxygen it needs for low atmosphere flight from the air itself, paving the way for a new generation of spaceplanes which would be lighter, reusable and able to take off and launch from conventional airport runways,” Reaction Engines stated.
The money from the UK government is expected to fund “the next phase in the development of its engine and heat management technology.” All of this will go towards improvements like engine design work, performing wind tunnel tests and then a ground demonstration of the engine.
If all goes to plan, Reaction Engines expects a Sabre prototype to be read by 2017, leading to potential test flights by 2020.