Air-Breathing Rocket Engine Gets Green Light for Major Tests | 4/18/2019 | Tereza Pultarova
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A new air-breathing rocket engine is ready for a major round of testing in the next 18 months after having passed a preliminary design review by the European Space Agency (ESA).

The Synergistic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE), which is being developed by the U.K. company Reaction Engines, can switch between two modes. In aircraft-engine mode, it uses oxygen from the atmosphere, and in rocket-engine mode, it burns an oxidizer carried onboard together with the fuel liquid hydrogen.

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The technology, deemed particularly promising for suborbital spaceflight and supersonic intercontinental travel, could one day revolutionize space transportation, advocates say.

SABRE is a hybrid jet and rocket engine that was originally designed for a single-stage-to-orbit space plane.

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The engine uses atmospheric air up to an altitude of 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) before switching to rocket mode. The launch vehicle, or space plane, would therefore need to carry less oxygen and so could be lighter and cheaper. SABRE is also designed to be reusable, which could offer further cost reductions.

"The positive conclusion of our preliminary design review marks a major milestone in SABRE development," Mark Ford, the head of ESA's Propulsion Engineering section, said in a statement. "It confirms [that] the test version of this revolutionary new class of engine is ready for implementation."


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