Feeds

ESA: British Skylon spaceplane seems perfectly possible

Wizzo robot runway rocketplane cleared to proceed

Intelligent flash storage arrays

The clever part of SABRE is its ability to use oxygen from the air and burn it in a normal rocket back end. This is achieved by taking air at the front and chilling it down incredibly fast using very, very powerful refrigeration gear running on a closed loop of liquid helium, which dumps the resulting heat into the cryogenic liquid-hydrogen fuel.

Skylon cutaway. Credit: REL

Haul stuff by donkey, after a while you're mainly carrying food for the donkeys. It's somewhat the same with orbital launchers - but at least you get the donkeys back with this one.

The trouble with this is that air contains water vapour, and in the normal course of events chilling it down like this would soon block up the SABRE with ice. Preventing frost buildup is one of Reaction Engines' main special sauces, and they have demonstrated that they can do it in the lab to the ESA engineers' satisfaction:

As part of the ESA technical evaluation of the SABRE engine, the design and operating principles of the frost control mechanism were explained to ESA. In addition a number of tests were performed at laboratory scale on request of ESA to demonstrate the repeatability of the frost control. ESA can confirm that the frost control mechanism of the SABRE engine, (at laboratory scale), works and is repeatable. In addition ESA expects these positive results to be repeated on the planned tests of the heat exchanger when it is tested on a VIPER jet engine.

These larger-scale ground tests are planned for this summer, as the Reg previously reported.

Assuming that a SABRE nacelle can be successfully built and flight tested aboard the proposed Nacelle Test Vehicle aeroplane - the ESA endorses this plan - Skylon isn't out of the woods yet. It will still be necessary to build the huge main fuselage and wings, which need to be light, strong, able to resist massive heating, and able to hold hundreds of tonnes of explosive cryogenic-liquid fuel.

The ESA structures team think that Reaction Engines have a decent shot at doing this, however:

Structural design work undertaken by REL does not demonstrate any areas of implausibility, given the relatively benign environment of the flight trajectory.

According to the ESA, the cigar-shaped main fuselage of Skylon is "more akin to that of an Airship than a conventional launcher or aircraft". This makes sense as its designers are facing similar problems to those that the long-ago engineers who built the great rigid airships of the 1930s had to tackle.

Like their illustrious predecessors, the Reaction Engines team need to enclose as much volume as possible with as little weight and internal structure as possible. The old-timers were even - mostly - trying to enclose the same stuff, hydrogen, though in their case in gaseous form rather than liquid.

Overall the ESA can't see right off any reason that a Skylon-style aeroshell, wings etc can't be built.

So we can expect excellent reusable spaceplanes in the reasonably near future, then?

Perhaps. The Skylon is intended to be a commercial design - the reality is, as has long been acknowledged by Reaction Engines, that no European government or assortment of governments is going to stump up the $12bn it will take to get ships into operation.

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.