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back to article ESA gives £6m to Brit spaceplane project

The European Space Agency (ESA) has inked a deal with British firm Reaction Engines Ltd to work on a paradigm-punishing new type of spacecraft engine. The tech could lead to fully reusable runway-launched space shuttles "within ten years". According to Alan Bond, MD of Reaction Engines: “Traditional throw-away rockets costing …

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HOTOL et al

Alan Bond has been trapped in development hell with variants on this idea for more than twenty years; anyone remember HOTOL? ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HOTOL ) Perhaps the initial success of SpaceX will bring the dream a few inches further along the road to reality, but I can't see it happening in my lifetime.

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Could this be the start of something....

This, IMHO, is one of a handful of genuinely practical and properly-though-out horizontal take-off SSTOs in a field simply littered with overambitious designs and wishful thinking.

Though the government turned them down the last time they went for funding, that was at a time when there were still high technical risks involved. Now that RE have actually built and tested the revolutionary heat exchanger system that is at the heart of the SABRE engine, the whole prospect is much more a matter of engineering development rather than blue-skies research. A major aerospace boondoggle could be just what Europe needs in the current economic climate.

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Meanwhile...

Lord Wooster, erm, Drayson and his chums in government are far too busy funding penis-waving stunt cars to "inspire" the little ones and advocating back-handers for their favourite businesses.

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Brute force or pure thought? Take your pick.

Yawn!! The ant's way to space, unthinking brute force. Ther is a simpler way that doesn't involve trying to mislead the world about our capabilities so that they stick to rockets.

Take two disks, run up to high speed with lossy bearings, add some shiny mirror washers underneath, make the whole thing live, add some wide spectrum blue light, stand well back.

http://royaldutchshellplc.com/2008/01/06/crackpot-or-genius-has-a-shell-boffin-stumbled-on-a-scientific-breakthrough/

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$10bn?

Small change - that's a bit over 1% of the recovery package signed off in the US and less than 10% of what GB is spending funding bonuses for w^Hbankers who, in any civilised society, ought to be dangling from the end of a rope. Come on Barack:

"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before 2020, of making this puppy fly!"

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Ten years to design and build

Fifty more to get planning approval for the necessary runway at Heathrow.

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Alien

Only one chance at landing...like the shuttle

I don't understand why they not thought this through, its a cheaper version of the US shuttle, but stretched and with out boosters and large tank. And NO engine control when coming in for a landing....so one crack at landing.

Why havn't they thought about a hi-brid jet engine that can be switch over to internal liquid fuel, when the air gets thinner. And then on its return it still has engine power to control to slow the plan down and would be able to switch over to external air when enough of it is detected. thereby under engine control if the plane over shoots the laning it can take off again and make another try at landing.

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re: Meanwhile

Surely anything to inspire the little ones is better than nothing? whether its a 'penis-waving stunt car' or a skycock. Oh yeah the car team want to 'fund raise' 10 Million through Multiple sources not the 10 Billion the black-member wants from the tax payer.

Geeze skycock gets 6 million quid of our money, and you are slagging bloodhound? whats wrong with you?

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Great idea but as ever the deveil is in the details

So there is this wonderous new engine and space plane and all but ... oh dear, we protected the meatsacks from the ferocious heat of hypersonic reentry using only some tin foil.

Need Another Seven Astronauts!

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HOTOL ... oh yes ...

on the other hand, instead of pissing away billions into RBS and the like, why not piss it away into something far more interesting like Skylon? At least there's a faint hope of a practical application.

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Six million big ones eh?

Six large is probably only about enough to design and build the co-pilots seat.

Just don't book your tickets yet chaps....this flight may be slightly delayed .... by about three hundred years!

The trolly dolly's watch is built in the UK though .....so..... wheee we're in space!

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To all of the above

@John Sinclair . The web sites a spoof and you didn't mention the possible genius (or crackpot) is yourself. The website could be called "Shellwatch" as its nothing to do with Shell.

You haven't re-invented the Townsend-Brown electrogravitic drive have you? Otherwise its certainly written in a proper crackpot style.

@Chris Miller. 10bn is what they reckon it would take. They seem to use aircraft cost models. Dial in the weight, # of engines and passenger load and out comes the cost estimate. Which is what a bank would get a consultant to do. Their use in this situation has been questioned. This number is derived from programs that give modern airliner safety levels, not the "spaceflight participant" c1920s level. Basically its the size of an Airbus so it should cost that. However it should be quite a lot simpler. Complexity based cost models are used by people like Xerox for office machine design. Many fewer parts pay big dividends.

@ Robert Flatters. Sabre *is* a hybrid air/oxygen/hydrogen engine using air/hydrogen for early stages in rocket/ramjet mode then shifting to air/hydrogen for the bulk of atmospheric flight before moving to hydrogen/oxygen for the rest. Hydrogen *is* a liquid fuel at the planned temperatures as it would be stupidly bulky otherwise. And one other small landing difference. Its designed to be aerodynamically stable and will even if the control surfaces lose power once reentry has begun. The Shuttle is not. That is why it needs 5 separate computers to run 2 different landing programs. That leaves getting the wheels down. The Shuttle uses 3 separate redundant systems to ensure this. I think Skylon probably has it covered. Note. Bond is Ex Rolls Royce. His co-directors are Ex BAE. They have worked on it for 20 years.

@Alistair Sounds pretty scary. If it weren't for the rigid fibre reinforced high temperature shell outside it that is. Skyon (like Shuttle) is designed to vent its atmosphere. You now have a giant thermos flask, mostly to stop the hydrogen boiling and bursting its tank. Multilayer insulation (the layers of alumised cling film separated by something like plastic fishing net) is used to stop heat by reflecting it back out. Being designed to be nearly empty on re-entry Skylon comes down slowly, which keeps it relatively cool. The MLI mops up the remainder. Those blankets that wrap bits of satellites are MLI. Its the common state of practice. With a high altitude (low pressure) entry with the vents still closed the MLI will continue to work before opening vents when its much slower in higher pressure air. And since any meat sacks would be inside a specially built version of the payload container (its mostly designed to hold satellites and other non living stuff) the protection is likely to be a bit more substantial still. Possibly more of a concern will be enabling fast evacuation in emergencies. 30 ejector seats firing at once will be quite a sight...

And lastly.

BNSC is basically a buyers club for for users of space launch. When last I checked it is not even a proper "Agency" like the DVLA or those old friends of El Reg, The Borders Agency. Their attitude to funding anything which is not directly end user IE a satellite, has been hostile since it was cobbled together in the late 80s. The "civil service" effect has ensured this has persisted through regime change. They did not cough up anything for Ariane either. They do however run a theme park in Leicester. Alan Bond and colleagues have worked a miracle getting this much money out of them.

Disclaimer. I once wrote to Reaction Engines. Alan Bond wrote back.

Ignorance is curable. Stupidity is forever.

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re: Meanwhile

"Surely anything to inspire the little ones is better than nothing?"

How about a proper appreciation for science and engineering, rather than "vroom, vroom" and a presumed dose of Jeremy Clarkson and pals drooling, with little other than "I want to choose the colour" and "I want to be a middle-man - when can I open a dealership?" coming forth from the little ones as the fruits of that inspiration.

You could hand a million over to the people who make Blue Peter for one big "special assignment" binge - maybe that'd inspire the little ones, too. It wouldn't make for good science policy spewing forth from Lord Wooster, either.

"whether its a 'penis-waving stunt car' or a skycock. Oh yeah the car team want to 'fund raise' 10 Million through Multiple sources not the 10 Billion the black-member wants from the tax payer."

Ooh, skycock: so amusing! As far as I can see, Reaction Engines has been looking for a decent share of the funding pot for quite some time, and with an approach which differs somewhat from that of the US military-industrial complex (whether it's the Shuttle, uprated ICBMs or "Apollo Reloaded") and that of the other space contenders, it's worth considering.

Of course it isn't cheap, but then you're investing in expertise and genuine capabilities (national, industrial, scientific): vastly different from another supersonic car record-breaking jaunt. When government ministers get enthusiastic about putting up public funds for such jaunts, while telling the science community to be more relevant, it becomes legitimate to regard such antics as a one-off penis-measuring exercise, typical of the "all show, no substance" nature of the current government and modern British culture in general.

"Geeze skycock gets 6 million quid of our money, and you are slagging bloodhound? whats wrong with you?"

Oh that's right: Bloodhound it is, yes. Paid-up fan club member, are we? As others point out, 6 million quid pales into insignificance compared to a bank bail-out, and I'm sure that the traditional passengers of the government gravy train for, say, aerospace get more than that every week.

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frontier - elite2

"specialy adapted cargo hold to carry people " and "no windows"

this just reminded me of having to kit out the cargo hold with life support systems to transport .. erm .. livestock, in the game...

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@Andy

That wouldn't be the particular type of "livestock" that is illegal throughout the Federation (Excluding Van Maanen's Star, where ALL forms of livestock and practically everything else is illegal - bloody neo-puritanical sect), but very popular in Empire, now would it?

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Wing loading

What's this thing's wing loading? The take-off and landing speeds must be huge. Maybe a flattened, aerodynamic body would help, or are they worried that that would make it look even more like an SR-71?

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Oops

I just noticed that this story was filed 10 days ago, while I was on holiday.

Anyway, I checked and the take-off speed is given on their website as 155m/s, which is 300 knots or very nearly 350 mph. That's approximately double the take-off speed of the A380, which needs a 9,000 foot runway. I wonder how long it will take to accelerate from 150 kts to 300 kts, while using up runway at a rate of 100m/s or so...?

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