Sunday, December 2, 2012
Hypersonic flight, a longtime dream of commercial and private airplane makers, maybe inching closer to reality.
Enter Reaction Engines Limited – a British company, says it has made “the biggest breakthrough in aerospace propulsion technology since the invention of the jet engine.”
Reaction Engines Limited says its hypersonic engine will send us streaking across the sky at speeds well over Mach 5, allowing us to have bagels for breakfast in New York and sushi for lunch in Tokyo. The hypersonic engine design reportedly includes new ways of cooling the air for an engine that will use oxygen in the atmosphere up to Mach 5.5 before switching to rocket power for the ride in space.
The challenge of attaining Mach 5.5 is propulsion. At speeds beyond Mach 2 or so, a jet engine has trouble getting the oxygen needed for combustion. It’s akin to trying to take a deep breath by sticking your head out the window at 200 mph.
Reaction Engines claims it’s cracked the problem with a design that would allow an airplane to take off, reach orbit using a combination of an air-breathing engine and rocket, then return to Earth. The secret is cooling the air as it enters the hypersonic SABRE engine.
“The pre-cooler technology is designed to cool the incoming airstream from over 1,000 Celsius to minus 150 Celsius in less than 1/100th of a second, without blocking with frost,” the company claimed in its press release.
The European Space Agency says it has evaluated the pre-cooler design and says it is satisfied that the design should move forward. The agency is negotiating a contract to help support the further development of Reaction Engines’ design and it hopes to have a sub-scale ground engine running by 2015.