Boeing provides lift for UK hypersonic engine

April 12, 2018
reaction engines funding Boeing
An artist's impression from the Reaction Engines website.

UK-based hypersonic propulsion company Reaction Engines has received a lift for its Synthetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE) after a $US37.3 million investment by Boeing, Rolls-Royce, and BAE Systems.

Boeing Horizon X Ventures revealed the investment Wednesday, saying the UK company’s propulsion could change the future of air and space travel and is expected to leverage the revolutionary technology to support its own pursuit of hypersonic flight.

This is the first UK investment for the Boeing innovation fund, which invests in cutting-edge aerospace, manufacturing and technology companies.

Areas in which it has invested so far include autonomous systems, energy storage, advanced materials, augmented reality systems, machine learning, hybrid-electric propulsion and Internet of Things connectivity.

Read: Boeing Horizon X targets Aussie nano-satellite company with first investment outside the US.

The hybrid SABRE engine blends rocket and jet technology capable of reaching Mach 5 in air-breathing mode and 25 times the speed of sound in rocket mode for space flight.

This would allow a vehicle powered by a SABRE engine to travel between London and Australia in four and half hours.

Reaction Engines, which was founded in 1989 by three propulsion engineers, says that eliminating the need to carry an on-board oxidizer during air-breathing flight segments will allow spacecraft that could take off and land like an aircraft.

It contends this will “reduce cost, infrastructure, and mission timelines while increasing responsiveness and system reusability”.

A key to the engine is an ultra-lightweight heat exchanger that prevents engine components from overheating. Other core building blocks are the engine core and thrust chamber.

The SABRE engine can be scaled to provide different levels of thrust for different applications and Reaction Engines believes it will enable a new generation of air and space vehicles.

The company aims to have a fully-integrated engine core by 2020 as it moves towards a SABRE-powered flight test vehicle.

The engine dovetails with a Boeing “son of Blackbird” concept to develop a hypersonic demonstrator aircraft that could take off under its own power.

Boeing hypersonic
A rendering of Boeing’s concept plane.

If the project proceeds, Boeing told Aviation Week it intends to start off with an F-16 sized, single engine proof-of-concept aircraft before moving to a twin-engine full-scale operational vehicle about the size of the famous SR-71 Blackbird.

Lockheed Martin is also working on a plane capable of traveling at greater than Mach 5. The SR-72 would be an unmanned hypersonic strike and reconnaissance aircraft designed to replace the SR-71.

Lockheed wants to have a fighter-sized demonstrator ready by 2020 fitted with a turbine-based combined cycle (TBCC) engine that uses a conventional turbojet at low speeds and then transitions to a ramjet and scramjet.