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Space Access ’11: Reaction Engines’ Skylon Space Plane

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
April 9, 2011
Filed under ,

Roger Longstaff
Reaction Engines

Current Progress and Plans

  • C1 Design completed – engineering drawings and design for vehicle
  • Getting an assessment of C1 by ESA and UKSA
  • ESA embedded employees with them – got a report back from ESA 150 pages – very technical – overall conclusion that C1 design could be realized with current technology providing the engine development went ahead as planned
  • UKSA invited more than 100 technical experts from around the world – ESA, NASA, Roscosmos, JAXA – industrialists, academics and other experts
  • Received an assessment from NASA a few months ago – impressed with team and project — caveat: more performance margins needed on SABRE engine design to make project work — Skylon accepts that conclusion
  • No word from other space agencies yet
  • SABRE 3 Engine demonstration in June
  • SABRE — Synergistic Air-breathing Rocket Engine


  • Project descendant of HOTOL project that ran through the late 1980s — Rolls Royce and British Aerospace
  • HOTOL problems — center of gravity, heavy intake, complex trolley, and only marginal performance
  • Skylon was started by the inventor of the engine who bought the patent back from Rolls Royce
  • Skylon incorporates new center of gravity, airframe changes, new location for engines, and other improvements to deal with HOTOL shortcomings

Future Plans

  • Halfway through reconfiguring the engine — same components in a different configuration
  • Updated payload requirements — 15 tons at 300 km
  • Final engine design — SABRE 4
  • Skylon D1 design about halfway complete — a more intensive modeling exercise — vehicle could grow by about 50 tons to 275 tons  — slightly less takeoff weight of Boeing 747 about half the takeoff weight of Airbus 380
  • Skylon 2011 – 20
    • Engine test in June
    • Full ground engine demo
    • test vehicle program
    • complete vehicle design
    • ready for full development program — pass design to contractor to build
    • fly by 2018
    • operational by 2020.


Q: Funding — 85 percent private, 15 percent public

Q: Costs and Competitive Advantage

  • Recurring operational costs — $4 to $5 million per flight
  • Designed for one flight per day
  • Would sell vehicles to operators like Boeing sells airplanes — they would price flights and services
  • Very disruptive technology — if it works, put expendable vehicles out of business
  • Same order of magnitude as A-380 development

One response to “Space Access ’11: Reaction Engines’ Skylon Space Plane”

  1. George says:

    Unfortunately the risk are high and the costs are very large. I would really love to see this completed, but I’m afraid I’m a bit too much of a cynic to believe that this will every be successful. As stated, the land test of the full size crucial pre-cooler should be happening this year. If these tests are a success then the next stage of funding should be much easier.

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