Space Plane Tech Could Power Aircraft for US Military: Page 2


Milestones approaching

Two SABRE engines are expected to be tested in 2019. "Hopefully, the earlier part of 2019," Bond said. "I'd like to feel we can test them on Westcott. That is where the rocket propulsion establishment used to be." (In the 1950s and 1960s, the United Kingdom had its own space program; the nation launched a satellite called Prospero with its last rocket, Black Arrow, in 1971. Westcott is about a one-hour drive from Reaction Engines' headquarters).

The SABRE development program is expected to cost 360 million British pounds ($600 million at current exchange rates). "We've got 80 million [British pounds] of the 360 million lined up. We're well on our way to that," Bond said.

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Courtesy of Sir Richard Branson

Of the 80 million pounds, 60 million is from the U.K. government. As with the commercial ventures NASA supports, Reaction Engines has to meet milestones to acquire those government funds.

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"We have to meet milestones, but those are programmatic issues," Bond said. "There is nothing contentious about that; it is just a matter of getting the work done to get there. I think of it as an R&D program, and we've done the 'R' bit, and this part forward is the 'D' bit. We've spent years making sure the technology actually works."

In January, this R&D program reached its third phase, which is split into four sections, known as 3A, 3B, 3C and 3D. Sections 3A and 3B are being carried out in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA).

Section 3A began in January and will last until April 2015. It involves the engine's system design, revising the engine's layout and studying the impact on Skylon's performance. This work will cost 8 million euros ($10.7 million, or 6.4 million British pounds), half of which will come from the U.K. government and ESA and the other half from Reaction Engines' private investment.

"This is it for real now; this isn't studies anymore," Bond said. Section 3A will continue until spring 2015, and section 3B is due to start in January 2015, he added. "That is the preliminary design phase,." Bond said.”

Section 3B will last until the end of 2015. During this section, the characteristics of the engine components will be defined and technical specifications produced.

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Section 3C, which starts from mid-2015, will see 10 million euros ($13.37 million, or 8 million British pounds) from the U.K. government spent. The section 3C work with suppliers overlaps section 3B. This is because some of the components will get specifications during 3B before other parts of the engine are fully defined. Those detailed components with specifications can then be given to prospective suppliers during the first few months of section 3C.

"In 3C, we start to do detailed design — what the bearings will look like, who is the supplier going to be, that sort of stuff. This is really exciting stuff. We're starting to pull the real engine together during the course of next year," Bond said.

He explained that for section 3C, his company will spend "some of the U.K. government money alongside some of our own private investment." The government money has "enabled us to raise quite a few millions of private investment to go alongside that, and we're continuing that [fund-raising] activity," Bond said.

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