The Big Think

May 26, 2011


Filed under: Space,Technology — jasony @ 8:17 am

The ESA approved Skylon Singe Stage to Orbit is moving forward this summer. Exciting stuff, even if the tech is mind-blowingly complex.

The Sabre engines are essentially just rockets, burning hydrogen and oxygen to produce thrust. What’s unique, though, is that at lower altitudes, the engines scavenge oxygen directly out of the air instead of having to carry it. For this to work, the incoming oxygen has to be cooled down to about 200 degrees below zero, even when the Skylon is traveling at such high speeds that the air entering the engine comes in at 2,000 degrees. And it has to happen in 1/100th of a second. The solution has been to feed the air through a complex system of tiny little heat exchanging tubes, which doesn’t seem like it would work, but the ESA says it does. And in any case, the next step is for a prototype Sabre engine to be built, which will show off both the rocket and air-breathing engine modes and the transition between them. If all goes well, it should happen this summer.

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