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What's this? Just an unmanned 'space plane' that could rewrite all we know about space exploration

The SABRE is designed to fly at 25 times the speed of sound. And it looks very, very cool.

reaction Reaction Engines Reaction Engines

REACTION ENGINES, ONE of the brightest prospects in European space plane technology, had big news this week.

BAE Systems, the globetrotting defence and aeronautics giant, just bought 20% of the firm, and it’s making a major investment in Reaction Engines’ most promising ideas.

The big idea is an unpiloted and reusable hypersonic space plane. It’s called SABRE. Here’s how Reaction Engines describes it:

A new aerospace engine class that combines both jet and rocket technologies with the potential to revolutionise hypersonic flight and the economics of space access…
This new class of aerospace engine is designed to enable aircraft to operate from standstill on the runway to speeds of over five times the speed of sound in the atmosphere.
SABRE can then transition to a rocket mode of operation, allowing spaceflight at speeds up to orbital velocity, equivalent to 25 times the speed of sound.
Reaction Engines’ technology has undergone extensive independent technical assessments which have confirmed its viability and potential vehicle applications.

According to a press release from the Oxfordshire-based company, BAE has bought 20% of the company and invested £20.6 million ($31.79 million). Reaction Engines is expecting another £60 million ($92.60 million) in the form of a government grant.

Here’s what Reaction Engines expects the plane to look like:

gif1 Reaction Engines Reaction Engines

The engine is a hybrid, using air-breathing technology like a jet, as well as a rocket engine:

gif2 Reaction Engines Reaction Engines

The engine transitions as the plane climbs into space:

gif3 Reaction Engines Reaction Engines

Here’s what Reaction Engines says it is getting from BAE:

The working partnership will draw on BAE Systems’ extensive aerospace technology development and project management expertise and will provide Reaction Engines with access to critical industrial, technical and capital resources to progress towards the demonstration of a ground based engine — a key milestone in the development of the technology.

According to the Financial Times, David Parker, head of the UK Space Agency, called it “a vote of confidence in the technology”.

If it all sounds cool, that’s because it is. Take a look at the lofty expectations for this plane:

arronlee33 / YouTube

- Mike Bird

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