Construction of new ESA-backed airbreathing rocket engine test site begins in UK


Construction on a new airbreathing rocket engine test facility has started at the Westcott Venture Park in the UK.

Scheduled to be completed within three years, the facility will be specially designed for firing the engine core of the Synergistic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine’s (SABRE) propulsion system.

The SABRE is capable of collecting atmospheric air during the early part of its flight to orbit.

It eliminates the need for the vehicle to carry bulky onboard oxygen for this part of the ascent, before switching to rocket mode drawing on internal propellants for its final climb to space.

The engine can also enable launch vehicles to take-off and land similar to an aircraft.

It can further facilitate the airbreathing of flight up to five times the speed of sound, and has the potential tolead to hypersonic air travel.

The SABRE engine development programme has received a €10m investment from ESA.

“This facility enables the ground test of the engine cycle, opening the way to the first test flights, and to a new era."

ESA technology, engineering and quality director Franco Ongaro said: “The opening of this new test facility marks an historic moment for the European aerospace industry and for the UK research and development in rocket propulsion.

“This facility enables the ground test of the engine cycle, opening the way to the first test flights, and to a new era."

The UK Space Agency has provided £50m for the development of SABRE.

UK-based company Reaction Engines is also involved in the engine development programme and has received funding from BAE Systems to further develop the engine.

In 2012, ESA oversaw the testing of the prototype SABRE ‘precooler’ required to cool the air, followed by research and development projects covering other elements such as the novel rocket nozzles, air intake design and thrust chamber cooling.


Image: Rendering of new airbreathing rocket engine test facility in UK. Photo: courtesy of Reaction Engines.