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Reaction Engines Announces Conceptual Study for SABRE Engine Hypersonic Test Bed

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
May 18, 2020
Filed under , , , , , , , , , ,
SABRE engine (Credit: Reaction Engines)

ABINGDON, UK (Reaction Engines PR) — Reaction Engines is delighted to announce the launch of a conceptual study to develop a flying Hypersonic Test Bed (HTB) concept for the in-flight demonstration of SABRE technology. 

The study was initiated through the UK Space Agency and will be conducted under the European Space Agency General Support Technology Programme (GSTP).  It involves a consortium consisting of Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (including Cranfield University), Reaction Engines, BAE Systems and Frost & Sullivan.

The purpose of the study is two-fold: Firstly, to identify further potential concepts for a flying test vehicle that will facilitate the demonstration of SABRE technology.  Secondly, to assess the potential competitive positioning of future SABRE-powered applications in the future space transportation segment. 

Reaction Engines’ SABRE development will revolutionise and enable horizontally launched reusable space access vehicles that are affordable, reliable, responsive and have high-cadence and payload return options. Such vehicles, enabled by these characteristics, will lower the cost barrier for space-access, in comparison to expendable or partially expendable vertical launch systems.

Shaun Driscoll, Programmes Director at Reaction Engines said, “We’re seriously looking at how we can fly SABRE technology at hypersonic speeds.  That’s an exciting prospect and this study is all about laying the conceptual groundwork, whilst building expertise, to realise that”. 

Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (CAeS) is involved in the design, development and manufacture of modifications, maintenance, environmental characterisation and rapid prototyping of new aerospace concepts.

Paul Hutton, CEO of Cranfield Aerospace Solutions said, “It will be critical to prove the SABRE technology on a flying hypersonic testbed, and so CAeS is excited to bring to bear our unique aircraft design expertise to deliver aircraft concepts suitable for the flight test programme.”

BAE Systems provides some of the world’s most advanced aerospace solutions. It is both a recognised prime developer and integrator of fixed wing air systems. The company is a recognised leader in the development of both specific capability and full operational demonstrator aircraft, including EAP (the forerunner to Typhoon) and unmanned platforms such as the Mantis MALE UAS and Taranis UCAS.

Frost & Sullivan is a growth consulting, research and organisational development firm with global expertise in a broad range of sectors serving the private & public sector. Their recognised expertise and experience in research and analysis of the space industry brings valuable market intelligence to the study.

Chris Castelli, Programmes Director at the UK Space Agency, said: “SABRE represents a step change in how future space launches will be powered. This new study brings us closer to seeing the revolutionary engine fly at hypersonic speed which will ultimately have great benefits for the future of space exploration as well as transport on Earth.”

About Cranfield Aerospace Solutions

CAeS is a long-established aerospace company with whole aircraft concept design and EASA/CAA aircraft Design Organisation (DOA) and aircraft Production Organisation (POA) approvals. These capabilities and broad ranging approvals have been built up over more than twenty years, due to being sought out by all the major global aerospace OEMs to carry out modification and demonstrator projects for them. 

More information about Cranfield Aerospace Solutions can be found at

6 responses to “Reaction Engines Announces Conceptual Study for SABRE Engine Hypersonic Test Bed”

  1. Andrew Tubbiolo says:

    They’d be better off going back to HOTOL.

    • duheagle says:

      Given that the key people behind HOTOL are now with Reaction Engines, Ltd., and that Skylon is, in essence, HOTOL’s successor, that wouldn’t make much sense.

      I continue to think the SABRE engine technology has a lot of promise for endo-atmospheric hypersonic transports of both civilian and military varieties.

      I also continue to think the technology brings nothing useful to the table, either in a technical or operating economics sense, anent space launch.

    • delphinus100 says:

      Alan Bond explains in 2012 exactly why they left the HOTOL design to begin with, beginning at 3:10

  2. duheagle says:

    Seems as though this development project could probably be simplified and speeded up if it was pursued with an eye toward test flying the resulting vehicle from the Stratolaunch Roc.

  3. schmoe says:

    Interesting to note that REL is no longer emphasizing SSTO as an application for SABRE. I think that’s a good move to emphasize the hypersonic air-breathing aspect of SABRE, which might mean a less-massive aircraft than Skylon would have been, which means the hypersonic aircraft might actually be able to take off from a normal airport. Skylon was so massive that it would require a 5.9km-long runway to take off safely, according to its Wikipedia entry, which rules out ALL commercial airports on this planet, and restricts it to dry lakebed runways like Edwards AFB, White Sands, Area 51 / Groom Lake, etc.

    A hypersonic aircraft powered by SABRE engines will have lots of challenges though. It will still need huge hydrogen tanks (though not as big as those on Skylon trying to chase that SSTO unicorn), no need for LOX tanks, but the airframe will need to withstand sustained hours-long heating at hypersonic speeds, which is going to be difficult to engineer for. In comparison, the SR-71 needed titanium skin and airframe to withstand the heating of high-mach flight, and leaks JP-7 fuel like crazy on the ground until the airframe heating in flight causes the titanium tanks to expand and seal. And this is only Mach 3 flight.

    A SABRE-powered hypersonic aircraft will be interesting for sure.

  4. Mr Snarky Answer says:

    It turns out if you study a design long enough….you still don’t get any hardware out of it.

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