ESA contract for hypersonic engine research


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The competition heats up: The European Space Agency has signed a research contract for 10 million euros with Reaction Engines to build a ground-based prototype of its hypersonic rocket engine.

While ground testing is always necessary, I am not sure what they gain by building a solely ground-based prototype. Hypersonic engines use the oxygen in the atmosphere, much like jet engines. Their operation however is dependent on altitude as well as the speed in which they are traveling, neither of which is easily tested on the ground.

This project is also one part of the United Kingdom’s new space agency program.

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  • Edward

    “Hypersonic engines use the oxygen in the atmosphere, much like jet engines. Their operation however is dependent on altitude as well as the speed in which they are traveling, neither of which is easily tested on the ground.”

    This is not a typical RAMJET or SCRAMJET
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scramjet

    From ReactionEngines’s web site:
    http://www.reactionengines.co.uk/sabre_howworks.html (2-minute embedded video)

    “SABRE is the first engine to achieve this goal by operating in two rocket modes: initially in air-breathing mode and subsequently in conventional rocket mode:

    “- Air breathing mode – the rocket engine sucks in atmospheric air as a source of oxygen (as in a typical jet engine) to burn with its liquid hydrogen fuel in the rocket combustion chamber

    “- Conventional rocket mode – the engine is above the atmosphere and transitions to using conventional on-board liquid oxygen.

    “In both modes the thrust is generated using the rocket combustion chamber and nozzles. This is made possible through a synthesis of elements from rocket and gas turbine technology.”

    Reaction Engines’ SABRE engines ingest O2 while in the atmosphere in order to feed rocket engines, then convert to on-board O2 tanks once the atmosphere becomes too thin.

    In the SABRE design, there is compression at the air intake, but they may be planning to simulate this on the ground, or perhaps they intend to use wind tunnel testing to simulate the high speeds at altitude. They are not clear about the test plan, the test facilities, or the test design.

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