UK Government invests £60m in Skylon plane that can fly from London to Sydney in 4 hours

Full ground-based engine test is planned for 2020.

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The Independent Online

This is the new super-plane. Why is it in the news?

The UK government has pumped £60m into a next-generation engine that will apparently make low-cost space travel possible for commercial customers.

Really? Will we be exploring the final frontier by Christmas?

Not quite. The new ‘Sabre’ engine - a hybrid rocket and jet propulsion system which theoretically allows travel anywhere on Earth in four hours or less - is still at least a decade away. However a full ground-based engine test is planned for 2020.

Who’s making it?

A company called Reaction Engines - which is based at Culham Science Centre in Oxfordshire - has been given a £60m grant by the government to help it develop and build the Skylon super-plane. The cash will also be used to help change the company from being mainly research-based to testing and eventual commercial applications.

Anyone else excited about it?

Aerospace giant BAE is snapping up 20 per cent of the company for £20.6m. BAE and Reaction will form a “working partnership... to progress towards the demonstration of a ground based engine”.

What’s the science behind it?

The super-plane will rely on cooling an incoming airstream from 1,000 degrees C to minus 150 C almost instantly, at close to 1/100th of a second. It will double the technical limits of a jet engine, and allow the craft to reach, up to five times the speed of sound, before switching to a rocket engine to reach orbit.