British engineers complete milestone test of their new high-speed 'spaceplane'

The breakthrough paves the way for the potential of hypersonic travel. Credit Reaction Engines

Created to drive space planes to orbit at Mach 5, and also take airliners around the world in just a few hours, the Sabre air-breathing rocket engine has just passed a crucial testing phase. "The intake temperature replicates thermal conditions corresponding to Mach 3.3 flight, or over three times the speed of sound", it continued, explaining that this meant the precooler had successfully cooled air being taken into the engine "from a temperature at which hot steel starts to glow".

Mach 3.3 matches the speed record of the SR-71 Blackbird aircraft, the world's fastest jet-engine powered aircraft produced to date and is over 50% faster than the cruising speed of Concorde.

This technology could now be combined with the spaceplane's experimental engine, referred to as Sabre.

The super plane is being designed with the desire for "the fuel efficiency of a jet engine with the power of a rocket", The Sun reports.

Reaction Engines, based in Oxfordshire, has successfully tested the new technology at the simulated speed. With an average speed just above Mach 2 (1,354 mph), the Concorde's fastest Transatlantic trip between NY and London occurred in 1996, lasting just 2 hours 52 minutes and 59 seconds.

A spokesperson for Reaction Engines told MailOnline that although this technology is decades away from use in passenger jets, the technology could be used in more immediate applications. The precooler technology is a potential enabling technology for advanced propulsion systems and other commercial applications.

The testing was conducted at a dedicated facility at the Colorado Air and Space Port in the US.

It comes 30 years after Reaction Engines was formed in the United Kingdom around an engine cycle concept to enable access to space and hypersonic air-breathing flight from a standing start.

At such high speeds, air flowing through the engine can reach incredibly high temperatures, which can potentially cause damage.

The new cutting edge machine can lower the temperature of compressed air in the engine from more than 1,000C to room temperature in one-20th of a second.

From take-off to Mach 5.5 (5.5 times the speed of sound), it would take oxygen from the atmosphere, which would be fed into a rocket combustion chamber.

Before it blasts into space, the engine "breathes" air, like a normal jet - but has to compress the oxygen to 140 atmospheres to burn it along with the hydrogen fuel it carries.

"We're now able to prove numerous claims we've been making as a business, backed up by very high-quality data", Reaction Engines CEO Mark Thomas told BBC News.



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