Traveling further and faster than ever before into our universe might just be made possible thanks to a new carbon fibre spaceship and some high tech air-breathing rocket engines.
A company in the UK called Reaction Engines has come up with the synergistic air breathing rocket engine system or SABRE for short and Skylon an un-piloted, reusable spaceplane intended to provide reliable, responsive and cost effective access to space.
Currently in the early stages of development the Skylon vehicle consists of a slender fuselage containing propellant tankage and payload bay, with delta wings attached midway along the fuselage carrying the SABRE engines in axisymmetric nacelles on the wingtips. The vehicle takes off and lands horizontally on its own undercarriage.
The fuselage and wing load bearing structure is made from carbon fibre reinforced plastic and consists of stringers, frames, ribs and spars built as warren girder structures. The external shell (the aeroshell) is made from a fibre reinforced ceramic and carries only aerodynamic pressure loads which are transmitted to the fuselage structure through flexible suspension points.
Skylon will be capable of carrying up to 15 tonnes of cargo into space and would be able to launch elements on in-orbit infrastructure such as modules for future space stations, for space telescopes, for planetary missions and for large satellites.
The futuristic craft uses SABRE engines in air-breathing mode to accelerate from take-off to Mach 5.5 which allows atmospheric air to be captured and used in the engines. At 25 kilometres in altitude the SABRE engine transitions to its rocket engine mode, using liquid oxygen stored on board to complete its ascent to orbit at a speed of Mach 25. In this space access application, SABRE engines need an operational life of only 55 hours to achieve 200 flights, significantly less than the 10,000s of hours needed for conventional jet engines.