Skylon development given go-ahead by UK Space Agency

A technical assessment has concluded that there are no impediments to the further development of the Skylon spacecraft being developed by Reaction Engines.

The UK Space Agency’s report on the Skylon technical assessment, for which the European Space Agency (ESA) was commissioned, also agreed with the objectives of the proposed next stage of the development programme.

Reaction Engines, based at Culham Science Centre in Oxfordshire, will now conduct a demonstration of the engine’s key pre-cooler technology later in the summer.

Skylon is an unpiloted, reusable single-stage-to-orbit spacecraft that is capable of delivering payloads of up to 15 tonnes into Low Earth Orbit at a fraction of the cost of traditional expendable launch vehicles, such as rockets.

Skylon’s Sabre engines use liquid hydrogen combined with oxygen from the air at altitudes up to 26km and speeds of up to Mach 5 before switching over to onboard liquid oxygen for the final stage of ascent.

The UK Space Agency’s commissioned report concluded that ‘no impediments or critical items have been identified for either the Skylon vehicle or the Sabre engine that are a block to further developments’.

Dr David Parker, director of technology, science and exploration at the UK Space Agency, said: ‘Both Sabre and Skylon are exciting new technologies that could transform access to space.

‘ESA’s positive assessment should give everyone increased confidence that Reaction Engines is on the right track. We are looking forward to the upcoming technology tests with interest.’

Australian scramjet

In separate news, scientists and engineers at The University of Queensland (UQ) are building a 1.8m-long hypersonic scramjet that is expected to fly at 8,600km/h in South Australia next year.

According to UQ, the research is the first phase of Scramspace, which aims to change the way satellites are launched into space.

Scramspace I is on track for launch at Woomera in South Australia late next year, having passed a major design review.

According to technical lead Dr Sandy Tirtey, the scramjet has passed its preliminary concept-development phase.

‘We have another design review set for July and are aiming at the Critical Design Review in October this year,’ said Dr Tirtey. ‘After that, we start the process of manufacture, assembly and extensive pre-flight tests.’

A team of rocket engineers could propel the UK to the forefront of commercial space flight. Click here to read more.