Thursday, 19 Feb, 2009 Technology

ESA Gives 1M Euros for Skylon Spaceplane Project


The European Space Agency (ESA) decided to invest 1 million euros ($1,259,500) into a UK launcher concept. The project is called Skylon spaceplane. This latest invention in science and technology would have the possibility to take off from a usual aircraft runway and carry more than 12 tons to orbit. The Skylon spaceplane will come back to Earth on the same runway.

Money invested in the project will help test and improve the spaceplane's new technologies, such as Sabre air-breathing rocket engine. According to Reaction Engines, the company that is behind the project, Skylon might have its first flight in 10 years.

The managing director of Reaction Engines, Alan Bond, mentioned that today's throw-away rockets require over $100 million per launch and thus they hold back the development of this market. The solution is to develop a vehicle that could simply take off from a conventional airport, fly directly into space, bring necessary load and then come back to Earth.

The latest invention in technology used in the Skylon spaceplane is the launcher's Sabre propulsion system, which is part jet engine, part rocket engine. The system burns hydrogen and oxygen to generate thrust, but when the spaceplane reaches the lower atmosphere this oxygen is obtained from the atmosphere, reports News BBC.

At high speeds, the Sabre from Skylon spaceplane will have to resist 1,000 degree gasses that enter its intake. It is important to cool these gases before being compressed and burnt with the hydrogen. The latest invention developed by Reaction Engines is the unique heat exchanger pre-cooler. Arrays of incredibly fine piping lower the hot intake gases to -130C in just 1/100th of a second.

The money provided by the ESA comes from the technology development programs developed by the agency. The entire program of investment in the spaceplane project is worth about $8,624,000.

The features of the spaceplane's design will be analyzed by EADS Astrium, the German space agency and the University of Bristol.

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