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Plane could fly Australia-London in four and a half hours

March 21, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

An airliner so fast it could fly passengers from Australia to London in time for lunch and have them back home in Australia in time for dinner, is on the drawing board – with an innovative British company developing the engines to make it possible.

The craft would fly at five times the speed of sound (faster than 6000 km/h) in the atmosphere, accelerating to 25 times the speed of sound (over 30,000 km/h) in space, if that mode of travel is required.

A cutting-edge engine, part jet and part rocket, has been designed to power the plane. Called Sabre, it will burn hydrogen it scoops from the air. Sabre stands for Synergetic Air Breathing Rocket Engine, a technology which relies on a radical heat-exchanger technology.

Ultra-lightweight heat exchangers, sometimes called pre-coolers (not to be confused with wine coolers) stop engine components from overheating at hypersonic speeds. The company says these are capable of cooling an incoming airstream from over 1000C to minus 150C in less than one 20th of a second.

“Sabre-powered vehicles will be capable of cutting the London to Australia flight time to four and a half hours,” Mark Thomas, the firm’s chief executive, told British Airways’ Business Life.

The pre-cooler system will begin a new phase of testing in the next month or so in Colorado, the BBC reports. The core part of the engine has already passed its preliminary design review, signed off by experts at the European Space Agency. This review paves the way for the central section of Sabre to begin its own demonstration campaign at Britain’s Wescott Space Cluster next year.

The engine is being made by Reaction Engines, founded in 1989 by three propulsion engineers from Rolls Royce: Alan Bond, Richard Varvill and John Scott. Their early work on the RB545 engine, destined for use on HOTOL was evolved and focused on producing a robust technical design for the new Sabre.

How the new plane night look. Image: Reaction Engines

HOTOL, for Horizontal Take-Off and Landing, was a 1980s British design for a single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) spaceplane to be powered by an airbreathing jet engine.

Sabre-powered craft could provide rapid, point-to-point transport inside the atmosphere, but would also allow reusable vehicles to make the jump straight to orbit without the need for multiple-stage rockets, according to the BBC.

Sabre would work as type of jet engine from takeoff to about Mach 5.5 (5.5 times the speed of sound) and then transition to rocket mode at high altitude, accelerating to 25 times the speed of sound to enter space, if that is the chosen destination.

Tests in the next month or two in Colorado will involve driving super-heated air into the pre-cooler at up to 1000C. It will then be instantly cooled to temperatures vastly below zero.

Written by Peter Needham

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