UK and European space agencies give a go for Skylon spaceplane

May 26, 2011 by Adrian West

After 30 years of development, the UK and European space agencies have given a go for the Skylon Spaceplane.

The Skylon, which is being developed at the Oxfordshire-based Reaction Engines in the UK, is an unpiloted and reusable spacecraft that can into Low Earth Orbit after taking off from a conventional runway.

Looking like something out of , Skylon is a self contained, single stage, all in one reusable . There are no expensive booster rockets, external fuel tanks or huge launch facilities needed.

The vehicle’s hybrid SABRE engines use liquid hydrogen combined with oxygen from the atmosphere at altitudes up to 26km and speeds of up to Mach 5, before switching over to on-board fuel for the final rocket powered stage of ascent into .

The Skylon is intended to cut the costs involved with commercial activity in , delivering payloads of up to 15 tons including satellites, equipment and even people into orbit at costs much lower than those that use expensive conventional rockets.

Once the spacecraft has completed its mission, it will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and return to base, landing like an airplane on the same runway, making it a totally re-usable spaceplane, with a fast mission turn around.

Skylon has received approval from a European Space Authority panel tasked with evaluating the design. “No impediments or critical items have been identified for either the vehicle or the SABRE engine that are a block to further development,” the panel’s report concludes.

“The consensus for the way forward is to proceed with the innovative development of the engine which in turn will enable the overall vehicle development.”

The UK Space Agency says that Reaction Engines will carry out an important demonstration of the SABRE engine’s key pre-cooler technology later this summer.

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daniel_ikslawok
4.7 / 5 (6) May 26, 2011
Hope they will build this as a passenger version and make flights between NY, London, Tokyo and other far distant places faster.
HoboWhisperer
4.6 / 5 (9) May 26, 2011
Hopefully this SSTO (Single Stage to Orbit) is more successful than the VentureStar program NASA cancelled a few years ago. The fact that this is partially air breathing may help. We shall see!
Shelgeyr
1.8 / 5 (5) May 26, 2011
(comment deleted by author - wasn't as funny as I first thought)
Nik_2213
4.5 / 5 (6) May 26, 2011
I wonder if NASA's manned capsule will fit in Skylon's cargo bay ??
Peteri
5 / 5 (2) May 26, 2011
It looks like a reincarnation of the old HOTOL project, which was being worked on by Rolls Royce and British Aerospace way back in the 1980's. Unfortunately, the British government got cold feet when some design problems cropped up and cancelled funding for the project and it subsequently folded in 1988.
that_guy
5 / 5 (3) May 26, 2011
I wonder if NASA's manned capsule will fit in Skylon's cargo bay ??


The module weights 21 tons, and skylon's capacity is 12 tons. So, no, but once they get one of these actually flying, hopefully they will start designing a jumno version.

I don't feel like posting links, but it is fairly easy to verify the info I posted by google.
indian_scientist
3.4 / 5 (9) May 26, 2011
There have been lots of concept designs for single stage reusable "space-planes" in the past that don't get off the drawing board. This one like all the rest will NOT get off the ground (literally). I'll put my house on it.
that_guy
3.6 / 5 (5) May 26, 2011
There have been lots of concept designs for single stage reusable "space-planes" in the past that don't get off the drawing board. This one like all the rest will NOT get off the ground (literally). I'll put my house on it.


Unlike many of the pipe dream designs, this one needs the fewest number of breakthroughs to be viable.
LKD
2.2 / 5 (5) May 26, 2011
I'm with Indian. I don't believe that what is expected and what arrives will be one and the same. There are no current working prototypes to even gauge. I'm sure if this was all that is promised, Richard Branson would have bought the company by now to skip the paperwork waiting.
javjav
4.7 / 5 (7) May 26, 2011
This is a clever design, because most of the fuel weight is the Oxygen, not the Hydrogen. But I am wondering if it could be possible to go further and get the Oxygen for the final stage directly from the upper layers of the atmosphere, in the last minutes, rather than bringing it from the floor. At those high speeds,it should be possible to produce plasma and then separate ionized Oxygen or Ozone from Nitrogen, or at least to get an Oxygen rich plasma that could be pressurized for later usage as an oxidizer. Make sense?
Burnerjack
2 / 5 (9) May 26, 2011
Sounds like yet another dead end waste of taxpayer money to give a handful of people a 'government job'. If they were serious, they would take a close look at how Burt Rutan and the amazingly talented crew at Scaled Composites ( I think?) are ALREADY doing this. Sure, they may not have a 12 ton payload capacity, but they have a working craft already. WITH PRIVATE FUNDING NO LESS!! Something tells me this type of funding yields the 'biggest bang for the buck', as well as the most motivated workforce.
Smiley111
1 / 5 (1) May 26, 2011
I heard an argument regarding the shuttle program years ago. It said that there were plenty of better alternatives than using shuttles to get into space, but they don't cost enough. Contractors don't want the option that pays them $1 billion when there is a perfectly good option that will get them $10 billion.
Na_Reth
3.8 / 5 (4) May 26, 2011
I heard an argument regarding the shuttle program years ago. It said that there were plenty of better alternatives than using shuttles to get into space, but they don't cost enough. Contractors don't want the option that pays them $1 billion when there is a perfectly good option that will get them $10 billion.

Enlighten me? And dont give me space elevator crap.
scramjetter
5 / 5 (4) May 27, 2011
If they were serious, they would take a close look at how Burt Rutan and the amazingly talented crew at Scaled Composites ( I think?) are ALREADY doing this.


Virgin Galactic does not have an orbital vehicle, so no, they are not already doing what Skylon is going to do.

scramjetter
not rated yet May 27, 2011
Hopefully this SSTO (Single Stage to Orbit) is more successful than the VentureStar program NASA cancelled a few years ago.


The VentureStar program was canceled not too long after southern California was experiencing "air quakes" from some unknown vehicle bound for a nonexistent base. Black projects are very cleverly funded.

Hopefully Skylon will lift the veil on what the USAF has been operating for some time now.
ubavontuba
2.1 / 5 (7) May 27, 2011
It's a pretty thing, but I doubt it'll work as described. Like the old SR-71, it's sure to be a hog on take off (thereby requiring aerial refueling).

I wonder if chines (sharp fuselage edges) would be as helpful to this concept as they were to the SR-71?

http://en.wikiped...d#Chines

Wikipedia has a pretty good article on single stage to orbit concepts:

http://en.wikiped...to-orbit

DavidMcC
4.3 / 5 (6) May 27, 2011
For a moment, I thought it said "Sylon Spaceplane"! Phew!
ScottyB
3 / 5 (6) May 27, 2011
Sounds like yet another dead end waste of taxpayer money to give a handful of people a 'government job'. If they were serious, they would take a close look at how Burt Rutan and the amazingly talented crew at Scaled Composites ( I think?) are ALREADY doing this. Sure, they may not have a 12 ton payload capacity, but they have a working craft already. WITH PRIVATE FUNDING NO LESS!! Something tells me this type of funding yields the 'biggest bang for the buck', as well as the most motivated workforce.


Sorry to inform you dude that this will NOT be funded by the government, they have private investors as the government could not afford the £30BILLION required to develop it. Private investors are releasing around £300 Million to develop the engine after this review was given the all clear.
LKD
1 / 5 (2) May 27, 2011
"Sorry to inform you dude that this will NOT be funded by the government,"

*Cough*
http://www.flight...ing.html
*Cough*

I seriously doubt they'll build a 12 billion to 20 billion plane without government money. It just is too much to borrow.
Egleton
2.8 / 5 (6) May 27, 2011
Why borrow the money when you can just get Ben to print it for you on his magic computer? (The one with the shifty decimal point.)
We need something like this to colonize L3 and L4. Just like Gerard K O'Neill told us to, before the unimaginative morons in congress put the hex on it.
http://en.wikiped..._O'Neill

I remember back in 1960 people were asking why we were wasting money putting satellites in orbit when there are bigger problems(ie Wars) on earth.

Someone is bound to wonder why we would all want to live out of the gravity well. And then come up with a lot of excuses as to why it was all too hard.
If you think that is hard, try feeding 10 billion people without oil.
Na_Reth
5 / 5 (1) May 27, 2011
Why not make a mini rocket with around 4 or 8 or even 16 jets in a circle. Sure you can only go "straight" up until you leave the atmosphere, but the jets would be more fuel efficient and they can give maneuverability in space.
LKD
3 / 5 (6) May 27, 2011
Na, the problem is they are trying to find a means off the planet that can rate an engine in hours of use instead of being the current disposable version. Though, initially, there seems no benefit. When they find a way though materials and design to reuse a rocket like we reuse a car, space become infinitely more accessible.
Rutzs
3 / 5 (3) May 27, 2011
Think of how much money this will save governments around the world.

Hopefully this will convince people that space isn't too expensive to develop/explore.

Think of how the first space race positively effected the relationship between USA & Russia. That is the power space exploration can have on humanity.

This is our way towards peace as a race!
Beard
5 / 5 (5) May 28, 2011
This would be the very first 'spaceship' ever made by humanity. Everything else has been a 'space apparatus' launched into position using disposable rockets.

Practical or not I want to see it built just because of the precedent it will set. I doubt many people thought the Wright Flyers were practical in the beginning.
StandingBear
1.8 / 5 (5) May 28, 2011
Would go it one better. Use Dr. Chang Diaz's VASIMR concept except with high power, or a new idea using standing wave power from a cross-fire fusion reactor to take off directly from earth to space, no stages, no throwaway reaction mass as the drive is propellantless and uses fields to provide thrust. Search the net yourself. Find it and feel the hairs raise on the back of your neck. SOMEONE is going to do it, rest assured! Dr Chang Diaz's work could use a fusion power boost too. He worked hard for many years on VASIMR to see it become potentially a main power source for space, and now it can be used to take off as well.
Na_Reth
not rated yet May 28, 2011
Isn't VASIMR basically an ionized argon jet?
that_guy
not rated yet May 28, 2011
This would be the very first 'spaceship' ever made by humanity. Everything else has been a 'space apparatus' launched into position using disposable rockets.

Practical or not I want to see it built just because of the precedent it will set. I doubt many people thought the Wright Flyers were practical in the beginning.


I'm not sure if I agree with you. The first 'space ship'? It just goes from earth to orbit. It really doesn't do much beyond that...you would still need a space ship to go any farther...

Now if you wanted to say that it's the first 'Space Plane', being a self propelled air craft that can also get into space...that's something I could definitely get behind.

@na reth. Yes, it is a type of ion engine that uses argon
that_guy
3 / 5 (2) May 28, 2011
Would go it one better. Use Dr. Chang Diaz's VASIMR concept except with high power, or a new idea using standing wave power from a cross-fire fusion reactor to take off directly from earth to space, no stages, no throwaway reaction mass as the drive is propellantless and uses fields to provide thrust. Search the net yourself. Find it and feel the hairs raise on the back of your neck. SOMEONE is going to do it, rest assured! Dr Chang Diaz's work could use a fusion power boost too. He worked hard for many years on VASIMR to see it become potentially a main power source for space, and now it can be used to take off as well.


WTF??
VASIMR would need many orders of magnitude more power just to lift its own weight off the ground.

And Fusion? The only fusion power that it looks like we'll be able to provide for a space ship in the next 50 years is the blast method, not a viable way to get someone off the ground...well...alive.
Beard
not rated yet May 28, 2011
@that_guy

Practical interplanetary/stellar travel is a matter of adding future technology to the design (superior energy sources, superior engines, materials etc...). Like I mentioned before; I doubt anyone in 1903 thought that the Wright Flyers would eventually lead to F-22 Raptors and Airbuses screaming across the stratosphere.

That's why I consider the first Spaceplane to be the first (primitive) Spaceship. Self contained energy is what differentiates it from everything else, in my mind.
Na_Reth
not rated yet May 28, 2011
What is self contained energy?
Beard
not rated yet May 28, 2011
What is self contained energy?


If the ship looks the same on take off as it does on landing you could say that the energy it used was self contained. Everything we use now requires huge disposable rockets.
Na_Reth
not rated yet May 28, 2011
I am sorry but self contained energy would be called normal matter and just that is not gonna get ya off giant rock, quite the opposite in fact.
MorituriMax
4.5 / 5 (6) May 28, 2011
Oh My God, the Cylons have invaded and are setting up Skynet!

Cylon + Skynet = Skylon.
Eric_B
not rated yet May 29, 2011
Am I the only one who reports the SPAM on this site as abuse?
bluehigh
1 / 5 (3) May 29, 2011
Eric> reporting the spam gives feedback on eyeball penetration. if you just ignore them they will stop doing it. Physorg has to try make money somehow, after all if it was just a case of a third party abusing the comments then the spam would be removed promptly.
Ethelred
3.4 / 5 (5) May 29, 2011
Eric> reporting the spam gives feedback on eyeball penetration.
That is not what is going on. For one if you don't report the spam it may linger forever. If you report it eventually, sometimes in less than a hour, it will be deleted.

The spammer isn't really expecting clicks. The purpose to scam the web spyders that Google uses. People are PAID to spam sites so the shop can go up the list on google searches.

Physorg has to try make money somehow,
Thats what the adds all over the page EXCEPT the comments are for. Physorg makes on them. They do NOT make money from the spam. Physorg is being used to make the spammer money without paying Physorg for it.

REPORT THE BASTARDS.

Ethelred
bluehigh
1 / 5 (3) May 29, 2011
To believe that Google are going to list a comment or even add any weight from a comment in Physorg that contains zero keywords and no related content to the article shows you have no understanding of how search engines work.

bluehigh
1 / 5 (3) May 29, 2011
I have looked again and there are none - not one - zero advertisements on this article page and the only ads on the home page are just 2 text promotions for training or job opportunities. Where do you see all these advertisments?
Ethelred
3 / 5 (4) May 29, 2011
I see THREE ads on this page and six on the home page. Perhaps you have an ad blocker or are a paying member of physorg.

Pagerank isn't based on keywords as much as it is on links. I already pointed out the spammer doesn't care about getting business from the comment.

Again the spammer does not care one wit about the eyes or clicks or any human action regarding the spam comments. The whole idea is to get the sites NAME or link scanned by Google's spyder. This is known to increase the pagerank score. Well it certainly did before the latest reforms of pagerank.

http://www.google...er=81749

I originally got this information about the reasons for comment spam on either

http://www.scalzi...hatever/
Which is one of the oldest blogs around or

http://www.accelerando.org/

Which is Charles Stross's site. Both are science fiction writers with long experience in dealing with spammers. Charles was the cause of the robot.txt files.

Ethelred
Ethelred
2.3 / 5 (3) May 29, 2011
Oops thats robots.txt. If you want to see one of those

http://www.physor...bots.txt

Which is rather weird one, since it doesn't disallow anything its just a wast of space on the server.

Ethelred
bluehigh
1 / 5 (3) May 29, 2011
Links to related content help a lot but its not practical to link into a specific comment on Physorg and the Spam does not have any outgoing hyperlinks(just text url). The idea of comment spam assisting Pagerank is outdated, its an ad for your eyeballs so you go buy something. In anycase, report if you want or not but i repeat my view that it is better to ignore the ads. Your mention of multiple ads on the Physorg site is a mystery as I do not use any ad suppressing software and mostly just a standard IE8 install. Perhaps the ads are geo-targeted and just dont show for my region (Australia).
(oh and robots.txt files have little to do with spam.)
Anyway ... lets go argue about some science :)
RolfRomeo
not rated yet May 29, 2011
delete
that_guy
5 / 5 (1) May 29, 2011
That's why I consider the first Spaceplane to be the first (primitive) Spaceship. Self contained energy is what differentiates it from everything else, in my mind.


I think you're angle is one about technological progress (Which i agree), and my angle is more about definition. I would call our 'probes' space ships. Or if you would argue it needs to be manned, the only thing that so far would get near that definition is the ships they took to the moon.

This ship or spaceplan - as awesome as it would be - is strictly for getting to earth and space and back - nothing more. For it to be a space ship in my eyes, it would need to be able to get to another stellar body.

Also, its energy is specifically not self contained. The innovation is that it can harvest oxygen from the atmosphere. Every other space ship has to carry all the energy it needs, except in cases, electrical energy.
Ethelred
2.3 / 5 (3) May 30, 2011
he idea of comment spam assisting Pagerank is outdated,
That link I gave for GOOGLE doesn't agree with you. I suspect they know more about pagerank.

its an ad for your eyeballs so you go buy something.
No. Definitly not ME. Now therre are a LOT of idiots posting, such as the moron that gave me a one on these posts, PS, but I would hard pressed to think that even the most brain dead moron posting here has EVER gone to that web site and bought anything.

but i repeat my view that it is better to ignore the ads.
Physorg WANTS to be informed. So yes I will continue to report the wankers.

Perhaps the ads are geo-targeted
Possibly.

More
Beard
not rated yet May 30, 2011
Also, its energy is specifically not self contained. The innovation is that it can harvest oxygen from the atmosphere. Every other space ship has to carry all the energy it needs, except in cases, electrical energy.


A single vehicle which can escape the gravity well by transforming energy into thrust without any disposable parts, followed by reentry is what I'm describing. I'm having trouble thinking of a fitting term for it, self contained isn't really accurate. A beam-powered propulsion vehicle could fit this definition and its obviously not using only self contained energy. Functionally like your car is now but for space, the only thing you need to change between trips is fuel.

Even though it's limited to oxygen atmospheres and Earth orbit; that's still space. Crossing meaningful distances through space while meeting the above criteria would require greater technology and variations of design. It's a matter of personal opinion when it becomes a spaceship after all.
Vendicar_Decarian
not rated yet May 30, 2011
"Sorry to inform you dude that this will NOT be funded by the governmen" - ScottyB

Sorry to inform you dude but it is already being fudned by da gubnerment.

Moebius
1 / 5 (3) May 30, 2011
No impediments or critical items have been identified for either the Skylon vehicle or the SABRE engine that are a block to further development, the panels report concludes.


Really? Pilotless? And carrying passengers? Sounds like a major impediment to me.
Ethelred
5 / 5 (1) May 30, 2011
(oh and robots.txt files have little to do with spam.)
It has to do with search spiders. Charles Stross accidently overdid it with a spider he was testing. It happened to be a site with low bandwidth and the result was an early, possibly a first, denial of service attack by accident. The victim created the first robots.txt file and Stross created the first robots.txt sensitive spider to see to it that he didn't do it again. I posted that so you MIGHT understand that I was using a VERY experienced source.

Anyway ... lets go argue about some science :)
I don wanna. I wanna rant at PS3 for the ones.

Ethelred