You could be flying from Sydney to London in 4 hours if this hypersonic 'space plane' gets off the ground

  • The space agencies of Australia and the UK have announced a partnership, which they’re calling “a world-first Space Bridge”.
  • At the core of this agreement is a new kind of rocket engine which could enable flights between Sydney and London in “as little as four hours”.
  • Reaction Engines, the UK-based company working on the technology, hopes to have commercial flights operating in the 2030s.

Just about every piece of Australia-relevant aviation news tends to be about blue sky plans to reduce the torturous flight times required to get anywhere from this country.

Well, you’re in luck, because there’s more. The UK Space Agency on Tuesday announced at the UK Space Conference it would be working with the Australian Space Agency (ASA) on an agreement it is referring to as a “world-first Space Bridge.” Which sounds very cool, you’ll surely admit.

At the core of this agreement is something called the Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE), technology which will enable aircraft to fly from Sydney to London in “perhaps as little as four hours,” according to Graham Turnock, head of the UK Space Agency.

“This is technology that could definitely deliver that. We’re talking the 2030s for operational service, and the work is already very advanced.”

Reaction Engines, a business based in Oxfordshire, is working on the hydrogen air-based rocket which could propel a plane at Mach 5.4, then speed up to Mach 25 in space.

For comparison, that’s about twice as fast as the wistfully-remembered Concorde, the supersonic passenger plane which ended service entirely in 2003.

The Concorde, which offered the last commercially-available supersonic flight, was scrapped after a flight between Paris and New York failed catastrophically during takeoff, killing 113 people.

According to Reaction Engines, the hydrogen/oxygen engine used in SABRE is both greener and cheaper than current air travel technology.

Speaking at the Space Conference, Shaun Driscoll of Reaction Engines explained the technology further, according to The Telegraph.

“The main thing with Sabre is it’s like a hybrid of a rocket engine and an aero engine, so it allows a rocket to breathe air.

“Most rockets are vertically launched, and if you look at spacecraft you have a tiny satellite at the top and a huge massive rocket, because just carrying fuel means you need more fuel so it’s a horrible cycle.

“Rockets really haven’t progressed in 70 years, whereas aero engines have become very efficient, so if you can combine an aero engine and a rocket you can have a very lightweight efficient propulsion system and basically create a space plane.”

According to the Telegraph, Driscoll says the physics of the SABRE engine “checks out” but that the real problem will be building a proper test regime.

The company hopes it will be able to begin test flights at some point in the next decade, aiming to have commercial flights operating in the 2030s.

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