Wednesday, February 28, 2018

"A space engine that could make flying into orbit commonplace"

Obviously, you can't compare a piece of technology in development to one that's up and working. The Falcon Heavy isn't a proposal or a prototype; it's a viable vehicle currently in use. The engineers at SpaceX deserve a great deal of credit for solving daunting technical challenges, but it's important to note that it took them much longer than they anticipated and, more to the point, there's nothing revolutionary about the technology. For that, you'd have to look someplace like this.

Sabre: the ‘Holy Grail’ in space technology

Researchers have spent decades trying to crack the problem of how to fly from earth to space and back again, writes Peggy Hollinger.

But it took a combination of rocket and nuclear science to make the breakthrough that is now drawing interest from around the world in Reaction Engines’ Sabre technology.

“It was pretty clear that the rocket needed a bit of a leg up and the only place to get that was from the Earth’s atmosphere,” says Alan Bond, one of Reaction Engines’ three founders.

“But the [speed] you get out of conventional jet engines isn’t enough. Somewhere in 1982 . . . I realised that a bit of theory I had used on nuclear engines 10 years before could actually help. So the hybrid air-breathing rocket engine came into existence.”

The engine combines jet and rocket technologies thanks to its unique pre-cooler, which extracts heat from air flowing in at high speeds of up to Mach 5 — several times the speed of sound.

This enables it to be used by the engine, which then uses the heat energy to power a turbocompressor. When at the edge of the atmosphere, the engine switches into rocket mode, using liquid oxygen to break through into orbit.

Unlike partially re-usable launchers being developed by the likes of SpaceX of the US, Sabre does not need to carry large quantities of liquid oxygen, and will not have to discard stages of the craft during flight.

It could be what the industry describes as the “Holy Grail” — a single stage to orbit system.


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