Aircraft of the Future: Hypersonic Passengers Flights to Start in the 2030s

How often do we wish we could visit remote regions — and dismiss the idea when we think of tedious layovers, delays and other issues that can easily ruin a vacation? It seems like there’s a new solution that will make travelers’ lives so much easier. What do you say to a one-hour flight from London to New York, or a four-hour flight to Sydney? Unrealistic? Unsafe? UK scientists don’t think so

On Tuesday, Britain and Australia agreed on a close ‘space bridge’ partnership collaboration.

Graham Turnock, the CEO of the UK Space Agency, says 'When we have brought the Sabre rocket engine to fruition, that may in a sense be the manifestation of that space bridge, enabling us to get to Australia in perhaps as little as four hours.'

An Oxfordshire-based company, Reaction Engines is building the new Hybrid Hydrogen Air-Breathing Rocket which, among other things, will be eco-friendly and affordable. The UK government has invested £60 million in the project.

Test flights are planned for mid-next decade; some of the engine’s parts are already being tested in Denver, Colorado.

'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,' Reaction Engines’ Shaun Driscoll said at UK Space Conference in Newport. '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.'

Hypersonic speed (five times faster than sound) simply melts the engine, that is why fighter jets use complex cooling units. 

Driscoll explained that Synergetic Air Breathing Rocket Engine (Sabre) hybrid engine’s supercooled helium tubes will chill the incoming air from 1000C to 0C, using captured heat to power the engine as well. Spaceplanes will take off horizontally, flying twice as fast as a Concorde (at Mach 5.4 (4,000 mph) for fast commercial flights, and at Mach 25 (19,000 mph) in rocket mode for space travel.

Supersonic air travel stopped after in 2000 a Concorde crash claimed the lives of all the 108 people on board.

Concorde used a conventional engine. A reaction engine will use 'the technology that would revolutionise space launch,' Driscoll explains. 'It would not only allow you to fly around the world hypersonically, and take people from London to Australia outside the atmosphere... but it will also allow you to rapidly get much more technology into space.'

UK Space incoming President Will Whitehorn said such engines were crucial for saving travel time and building a space infrastructure. It’s also possible that they will be used in motosport and the automotive industry, as well as in energy production.

Image credit: Reaction Engines

Helen Borodina