Feeds

ESA: British Skylon spaceplane seems perfectly possible

Wizzo robot runway rocketplane cleared to proceed

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

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.

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Relive the death of Earth over and over again in Extinction Game
Apocalypse now, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that ...
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.