August 22, 2019

‘Skylon’ space plane set to replace Space Shuttles

Skylon Space Plane - to boldly go where no plane has gone before.

With the era of the Space Shuttles coming to an end this year, United Kingdom designers Reaction Engines Ltd are working on a revolutionary space plane to fill the void for short range space travel.

NASA’s space shuttle Discovery has just completed its final mission, and Endeavour and Atlantis are following it into retirement later this year.

“Skylon” is only in the concept stages but its revolutionary engine has been worked on for almost 30 years.

The fully reuseable ‘Skylon’ space plane will be powered by a hydrogen fuel-powered rocket engine called SABRE (Synergistic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine) designed by the company’s managing director Alan Bond.

Bond has been working on the idea since the early 1980s, describes it as a “combined cycle rocket engine with two operational modes.”

Mark Hempsell, future programs director at Reaction Engines Ltd, said: “The engine starts by burning hydrogen with air and finishes up burning hydrogen with liquid oxygen like a shuttle engine.”

“It’s a very doable system. The basics of the engine are thoroughly rooted and explored, so there is no danger they aren’t going to work”.

The ability of a single rocket engine chamber provide propulsion inside the earths atmosphere as well as in space will allow the Skylon to take off and land like a conventional aircraft.

Currently the NASA Space Shuttles and the European Space Agency’s Ariane five rocket, need expensive disposable rocket boosters to get them up into orbit.

Hempsell says the idea is to carry passengers, satellites and cargo for the International Space Station.

There is also the possibility that the 90 metre long Skylon, with its 12 ton payload capacity, will be able to carry out missions to the Moon and as far as Mars.

Reaction Engines Ltd estimates the total costs of developing Skylon will be around $10 billion, andthey are looking for investmentto turn he theory of the SABRE engine into reality.