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ESA Invests In Skylon Spaceplane Project

February 19, 2009

The European Space Agency (ESA) on Thursday announced a deal with Reaction Engines Ltd that will invest £900,000 ($1,291,000) in the development of core technologies for its Skylon reusable runway space shuttle.

The firm said it hopes to see reusable spaceplanes fly within 10 years.

“Traditional throw-away rockets costing more than a $100 million per launch are a drag on the growth of this market. The Holy Grail to transform the economics of getting into space is to use a truly reusable spaceplane capable of taking off from an airport and climbing directly into space, delivering its satellite payload and automatically returning safely to Earth,” said Alan Bond, Managing Director of Reaction Engines.

“Years of planning and research by REL on the SKYLON vehicle and its unique SABRE engine mean that we have an inside track on realizing this goal. SKYLON could reduce the cost of getting into space by a factor of ten and improve the reliability by a thousand.”

Reaction said the demonstration program will study three areas of the engine: the pre-cooler for incoming air, the cooling of the combustion chamber, and advanced exhaust nozzles that can adapt to the ambient atmospheric pressure.

Skylon burns hydrogen and oxygen for thrust. Its Sabre propulsion system uses a heat exchanger that pre-cools the 1,000 degree gasses entering its intake.

Intake gases go from scorching hot to minus 130C in 100th of a second.

According to BBC News, Reaction intends to use the ESA money to build a full test pre-cooler at its facility at Culham.

“This is an example of a British company developing world beating technology with exciting consequences for the future of space,” said Lord Drayson, UK Minister for Science and Innovation.

“It is fantastic that Reaction Engines, the British National Space Center and ESA have successfully secured this public-private partnership arrangement,” said Drayson.

Image Caption: Skylon in Orbit. Courtesy Reaction Engines Ltd

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