No small amount... 10 million euros from ESA's Technology Center (ESTEC) and 50 million pounds directly from the UK Space Agency, all for Reaction Engines Ltd.'s development of a ground-based demo of a new class of highly scalable aerospace engine—SABRE™.
This signing represents the final piece of the British Government’s 60 million pound commitment of grant funding towards the SABRE program. The terms of the UK Space Agency grant funding were agreed in late December of 2015. In November 2015, BAE Systems invested 20.6 million pounds in the Reaction Engines company and acquired 20 percent of the firm's share capital. BAE also agreed to provide industrial, technology development and project management expertise to support Reaction Engines during the development phase. With all of the agreements now in place, the SABRE ground demonstrator should be delivered by the close of this decade.
The engine is designed to provide efficient air-breathing thrust from standstill on the runway to speeds above five times the speed of sound in the atmosphere. It can then transition to a rocket mode of operation allowing spaceflight at up to orbital velocity, equivalent to twenty five times the speed of sound. Through its ability to ‘breathe’ air from the atmosphere, SABRE offers a significant reduction in propellant consumption and weight compared to conventional rocket engines which have to carry their own oxygen.
A key element of the SABRE engine is a breakthrough in aerospace engine technology which Reaction Engines has achieved by developing ultra-lightweight heat exchangers that allow the cooling of very hot airstreams from over 1,000 degrees Celcius to minus 150 degrees Celcius in 1/100th second, while preventing the formation of ice at sub-zero temperatures.
The viability of the SABRE engine has been independently validated by a number of external parties, including the European Space Agency during a review that was undertaken at the request of the U.K. government.
According to Mark Thomas, the Chief Executive Officer of Reaction Engines Ltd., the support from ESA and UKSA to date has been most valuable and this agreement is a further vote of confidence in the potential of this technology as well as the firm's ability to deliver the engine.
Adding his thoughts, Franco Ongaro, the Director of Technical and Quality Management, noted that Reaction Engines and ESA have been working together since 2008 to make the SABRE concept a reality and this new contract marks an important milestone in the continued collaboration to mature the SABRE engine design.
From Katherine Courtney, acting Chief Executive Officer, UK Space Agency, she reported that her agency wants the UK to be the best place in Europe to innovate, and the SABRE engine program has the potential to change air and space travel forever. The UK Space Agency's 60 million pounds commitment, made in 2013, will help to ensure that Reaction Engines and the industry can collaborate to make this revolutionary engine become a reality.