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The SABRE engine- powering future space access
17 March, 2016 @ 7:30 pm - 9:00 pmFree
The revolutionary SABRE air-breathing rocket engine, has the potential to transform access to Space. This lecture will explore the unique characteristics of the SABRE engine and the prospects it offers for a single-stage-to-orbit launch vehicle with aircraft-like operation.
SABRE is at heart a rocket engine designed to power aircraft directly into space (single-stage to orbit) to allow reliable, responsive and cost effective space access, and in a different configuration to allow aircraft to cruise at high speeds (five times the speed of sound) within the atmosphere.
In the past, attempts to design single stage to orbit propulsion systems have been unsuccessful largely due to the weight of an on-board oxidiser such as liquid oxygen, needed by conventional rocket engines. One possible solution to reduce the quantity of on-board oxidizer required is by using oxygen already present in the atmosphere in the combustion process just like an ordinary jet engine. This weight saving would enable the transition from single-use multi-stage launch vehicles to multi-use single stage launch vehicles.
SABRE is the first engine to achieve this goal by operating in two rocket modes: initially in air-breathing mode and subsequently in conventional rocket mode:
• Air breathing mode – the rocket engine sucks in atmospheric air as a source of oxygen (as in a typical jet engine) to burn with its liquid hydrogen fuel in the rocket combustion chamber
• Conventional rocket mode – the engine is above the atmosphere and transitions to using conventional on-board liquid oxygen.
In both modes the thrust is generated using the rocket combustion chamber and nozzles. This is made possible through a synthesis of elements from rocket and gas turbine technology.
This approach enables SABRE-powered vehicles to save carrying over 250 tons of on-board oxidant on their way to orbit, and removes the necessity for massive throw-away first stages that are jettisoned once the oxidant they contain has been used up, allowing the development of the first fully re-usable space access vehicles such as SKYLON.
Though SABRE engines utilise many existing rocket and jet engine technologies, two key areas new to aerospace had to be addressed: ultra-lightweight heat exchangers and frost control. REL has focused primarily on developing these new technologies and the advanced manufacturing techniques required for their commercialisation.