NEWS FROM SPACE SYMPOSIUM: Hypersonic Jet Project Reaches Major Milestone
Art: Reaction Engines
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A British company that is partly developing a section of a hypersonic engine at a spaceport in Colorado has carried its first hot live-fire test since setting up shop here.
The SABRE engine is envisioned as part of an aircraft that can takeoff on a runway and switch to “rocket mode” taking it up to speeds of Mach 5. It is being developed by Reaction Engines partly in the United Kingdom and partly in Colorado. The pre-cooler is being tested at a facility at the Colorado Air and Space Port east of the Denver International Airport.
The first test carried out at the new building recently was a success, said Adrian Tansing, contracts and international trade manager at Reaction Engines. The pre-cooler functioned at Mach 3.3 temperatures. The company is calling it “a pivotal moment in the advancement of air-breathing, high-speed propulsion.”
The technology takes the energy it has taken out of the air and injects it into the engine to drive the machinery, so it is regenerating what would otherwise be wasted heat. The temperature inside the engine reaches 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. Since overheating has been a major problem developing hypersonic technology, the pre-cooler is essential. It reduces the temperature by 1,300 degrees.
“The pre-cooler basically tricks the engine into thinking it is subsonic,” Tansing said this week at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The test used a General Electric J79 engine and diesel fuel as a heat source. It hit 800 degrees, which is about the equivalent of a SR-71 Blackbird high-altitude spy aircraft, she noted.
The stationary test facility can match the temperatures and other conditions found in flight. A separate facility in the United Kingdom will develop the engine core. Much of the technology has been proven, company officials have said, but the pre-cooler hasn’t.
Next will be tests with Mach 4.2 analogous temperatures, then the ultimate goal of Mach 5.4. The engine is expected to operate in air-breathing mode to Mach 5.4, then switch to rocket mode.
The system has attracted investment funds totaling 100 million pounds from BAE Systems, Boeing HorizonX Ventures, Rolls-Royce, the U.K. government and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.