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UK Government to invest £60 million in hydrogen powered SABRE rocket engine

SABRE Rocket Engine

The Government is set to invest £60 million in a revolutionary hydrogen powered rocket engine via the UK Space Agency. The new rocket engine will be able to burn hydrogen with oxygen taken from the air in low atmosphere flight - something which has never before been possible. Modern rocket designs have previously had to carry large, high purity oxygen containers to satisfy the concentrations required for successful rapid hydrogen combustion in the lower atmosphere. This is because it was never possible to accelerate enough air through the engine to satisfy the oxygen demands without the engine overheating (or the coolant clogging it with ice!).

The key to the SABRE engine's success is the invention of a new light-weight, highly efficient heat exchanger that is able to cope with the extreme loads. The technology has been developed by a British aerospace company called Reaction Engines Limited (REL), based in Oxfordshire, England. The company was founded by Alan Bond (lead engineer on the British Interplanetary Society's Project Daedalus) and Richard Varvill and John Scott-Scott (the two principal Rolls-Royce engineers from the RB545 engine project).

A prototype SABRE engine is expected by 2017, and flight tests for the engine around 2020. SABRE engine technology will eventually enable aircraft to cruise within the atmosphere at speeds of up to 5 times the speed of sound, enabling a journey half way around the world in 4.6 hours. It is hoped that the new engine design will also facilitate another project, known as "Skylon" to achieve the aim of regular commercial space flights.

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts, said:

“SABRE has the potential to completely transform how we currently access space whilst further boosting the burgeoning UK space sector. By supporting this breakthrough technology we are giving the UK a leading position in a growing market of new generation launchers and removing one of the main barriers to the growth of commercial activity in space.”

Alan Bond, who founded Reaction Engines and has led the research for over 20 years, added:

“This significant investment in British high-tech technology is a fantastic shot in the arm for the UK aerospace and space sectors, as well as the broader economy. Thanks to the Government’s support, Reaction Engines Ltd – a private company, and a great example of British enterprise - will now be able move to the next phase in the development of its engine and heat management technology, bringing much-needed jobs and investment to the UK. Our proven revolutionary technology is the result of two decades of hard work and has the potential to change the world just as the jet engine did.”

The full press release can be read here.