Wednesday, March 11, 2009

British May Launch Spaceplane Within 10 Years

Single-Stage-To-Orbit spacecraft would use runways for take-off and landing


Illustration of Skylon spaceplane in orbit

The European Space Agency and the British Government have awarded $1.28 million dollars to Reaction Engines Limited as part of a multi-million dollar package aimed at developing the SABRE hybrid engine. The SABRE engine is capable of operating as both an air-breathing jet engine and a rocket engine.

SABRE engines would make possible the 269-foot-long Skylon Spaceplane, capable of taking off from and landing on a runway like any airliner, (the Boeing 747-300 is 231 feet long). However, after take-off, Skylon will ascend high above the Earth where at Mach 5.5 Skylon’s SABRE engines will switch from air-breathers to rockets, propelling the craft into orbit.

With a payload capacity of 13 tons and a 40-foot cargo bay, Skylon will be capable of hefting satellites and orbital base (space) station modules into orbit. There are even plans for a 40-passenger payload module for astronauts or space tourists.

Computer-generated Skylon Spaceplane animations may be viewed at REL’s website in QuickTime or Flash.

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