When traveling by air to and from Australia, be prepared. It takes a long, long time, it’s not called ‘Down Under’ for nothing! From the northern hemisphere it usually takes more than 20 hours plus several more if the flight has a stop-over.
Frequent flyers on that route might have a reason to rejoice. According to experts, hypersonic passenger jets are the future of travel, and a flight from London to Sydney could take just four hours.
Reaction Engines, a British firm, is working on a new engine that would thrust an aircraft to Mach 5.4. That’s five times the speed of sound, more than double the speed of Concorde and it could reach a top speed of around 4,143mph!
Dr Graham Turnock of the UK Space Agency said: “When we have brought the Sabre rocket engine to fruition, that may enable us to get to Australia in perhaps as little as four hours.”
He added: “This is not sci-fi. This is not a pipe dream. This is literally in the works.
“It has the potential to turn air travel on its head.
“Certainly the way you conceive air travel will completely change in ten years’ time.”
The engines may even be operational by the 2030s, according to experts.
Will Whitehorn, from trade body UK Space, said: “It would not only allow you to fly around the world hypersonically, and take people from London to Australia outside the atmosphere and have far less long term effect on the atmosphere but it will also allow you to rapidly get much more technology into space.”
One of the main issues with air travel at such high speeds is the increased potential for melting since fast propulsion needs very high temperatures.
Makes sense then that the SABRE (Synergetic Air Breathing Rocket Engine) uses liquid gases like helium, which are able to cool incoming air from 1,000°C to -150°C in one hundredth of a second.
The engine will be powered by hydrogen, an eco-friendly fuel that produces water vapour when it burns.
The Reaction Engines website says: “SABRE engines are unique in delivering the fuel efficiency of a jet engine with the power and high speed ability of a rocket.
“Unlike jet engines, which are only capable of powering a vehicle up to Mach 3, three times the speed of sound, SABRE engines are capable of Mach 5.4 in air-breathing mode, and Mach 25 in rocket mode for space flight. They are simply going to revolutionize the way we travel around the globe, and into orbit.
“Like jet engines, SABRE can be scaled in size to provide different levels of thrust for different applications which is crucial to our success – it’s going to enable a whole generation of air and space vehicles.”
Speaking at the UK Space Conference in Newport, South Wales, Shaun Driscoll, of Reaction Engines, said: “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… 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. The physics checks out but the challenge is building a test regime.”
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