Revolutionary space engine turns an airplane into a spaceplane

July 1, 2013

How Skylon will look as it takes off bound for Earth orbit (credit: Reaction Engines)

A revolutionary engine that can turn an aircraft into an orbiting spaceplane has won fresh backing from the British Government.

The hybrid engine called Skylon (Synergistic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine) — is currently being developed by Reaction Engines, SEN reports.

Until now, spacecraft heading for orbit have had to be launched by conventional rockets because of the amount of fuel needed to be get them into space.

Skylon, powered by SABRE engines, will change the game because it will draw oxygen for fuel from the atmosphere as it flies, meaning it needs to carry less fuel in its tanks.

It means the sleek cigar-shaped craft will be able to take off and land at conventional airports, just like a normal jet airliner. But unlike conventional aircraft engines, SABRE switches in flight to become a rocket engine that can boost Skylon to a speed faster than Mach 5, or more than five times the speed of sound.

Skylon will be able to carry people and cargoes into space where it could dock with the International Space Station and help build new orbiting outposts.

But when it returns to land like a normal aircraft, it can be readied for its next mission in just hours. The new technology will slash launch costs.

As well as launching Skylon, a version of SABRE called Scimitar would be able to power a futuristic airliner LAPCAT to fly from Europe to Australia ina little over four hours.