Fly anywhere in the world in 4 hours
15 Deceber 2014, Nirapad News : Wouldn’t it be nice to have breakfast on the french riviera, take a walk along the Great Wall of China, and then cap off the evening by staring at stars in the Alaskan wilderness? Well now, it seems that this might actually be possible. At least, it might be possible very soon, owing to British aerospace firm Reaction Engines Limited (REL) working on an engine system that will be able to take 300 passengers anywhere in the world in just four hours. Yup you heard it right just 4 hours!
More impressively, the engine will be capable of taking passengers on a journey into space. The plane, which the firm refers to as the Skylon, will have the ability to venture beyond the Earth and enter outer space. A lot of the developments that the firm has made in recent months come thanks to the European Space Agency (ESA), who is working with the firm in order to secure cost efficient space transportation.
This craft is powered by a new kind of engine, known as a SABRE engine. REL asserts that this engine will be capable of operating as a jet engine and a rocket engine. Amazingly, it will have the ability to power an aircraft at up to five times the speed of sound within the atmosphere, or it could send a craft directly into Earth orbit at twenty-five times the speed of sound. The engine relies on a device called the precooler – technology that cools down the air entering the engineer system by more than 1,000 degrees Celsius in .01 seconds. The precooler system weighs around a tonne and is made up of a swirl of thin pipes that are filled with condensed helium. These pipes suck heat from the air, cooling it down to -150 degrees Celsius before it enters the engine. This corresponds to an unheard-of cooling rate of 400 megawatts, and will allow the plane to “breathe” oxygen.
According to Reaction Engines, SABRE will be used inside two upcoming plane models – LAPCAT A2, a commercial plane that will be able to transport passengers from Brussels to Sydney in “two to four hours”, and also the ambitious SKYLON, an unpiloted and re-usable spaceplane that aims to provide cheaper access to space.
A number of tests (over 700, thus far, including experiments which analyze the structural integrity and aerodynamic stability) have so far proved successful. And if things continue to unfold as planned, David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, states that this design will completely alter the way that we travel and the way that we get to space.
In July of 2013, the United Kingdom earmarked £60 million for the development of a full-scale prototype of the SABRE engine, citing the viability of its core technologies based on testing performed by the European Space Agency (ESA). In June of this year (2014) a study was carried out in response to the ESA’s ‘New European Launch Service’ requirements, which are aimed at lowering the cost of European launch services by around 2020. The study found that SKYLON is, potentially, Europe’s most cost effective way to achieve space access. The company is already testing the SABRE engine system, and is planning the first test flights for a tantalisingly close 2019.
SKYLON, the plane that will take us into outer space, will be 82 metres long and, although it’ll fly like a rocket in the air, it takes off and lands horizontally like a normal plane, which will make it more versatile. The model is estimated to cost around US$1.1 billion each.
Ultimately, each of these crafts are estimated to cost the equivalent of $1.1 billion United States dollars. Yes, that sounds like a lot of money. However, the Association of Aerospace Universities notes that it will be able to repay its development costs, meet its servicing and operating costs, and make profits for its operators whilst being an order of magnitude cheaper than current space transportation systems.
REL also conducted a study on the passenger capabilities of the craft, and they found that a trip to orbit in an upright seat would be suitable for stays in Zero-G for up to 14 days, and it would initially cost around 350,000 Euros, which very few of us could afford. Yet, the company notes that the cost would reduce significantly in time (using the craft for standard travel would, presumably, cost a lot less).
Unfortunately, the plane won’t have any windows to look out of, but if new developments in aviation are anything to go by, that might not be such a bad thing – companies are now putting cameras on the outside of the planes and live streaming a 360 degree view on the inside walls or passengers. Imagine being able to see the below view while flying through outer space.