Much has been written about the anticipated comeback of Supersonic flights since the Concord stopped flying in 2003. But little has been said about the future of Hypersonic flights for passenger air travel.
New hypersonic flight engine is called SABRE
The UK-based Reaction Engines is developing a hypersonic engine called SABRE, a Revolutionary New Hypersonic Engine Invention.
The SABRE (Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine) now enables us to eye hypersonic flights for commercial passenger air travel perhaps in as little as 15 years!
What’s the difference between Subsonic, Supersonic, and Hypersonic speed?
Today’s airliners fly at subsonic speeds. Subsonic speeds are speeds below the speed of sound. For example, an airliner cruising at Mach .82 across the Atlantic is flying at 82% of the speed of sound.
Speeds from one time the speed (Mach 1) of sound up to five times the speed of sound is described as Supersonic speeds.
Speeds starting at five times the speed of sound (Mach 5) are considered Hypersonic speeds.
How many miles per hour is Mach 1?
It varies and it depends on the current atmospheric conditions. How fast the sound travels through the atmosphere is dependent on things such as the temperature, air density, and compressibility.
But, for the sake of visualization of how fast Mach 1 is: it’s approximately 767 miles per hour, or 343 meters per second, or 1,125 feet per second, based on normal, dry conditions at 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celcius) at ground level.
Funding and companies involved
The hypersonic engine invention comes as a result of a 50% European Union (EU) US$60 million funded project called LAPCAT (Long-term Advanced Propulsion Concepts and Technologies). The remaining funding and partners include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, and BA Systems.
The UK Space Agency
Britain and Australia have already agreed to work on a partnership, called the Space Bridge. Graham Turnock, in charge of the UK Space Agency:
“When we have brought the Sabre rocket engine to fruitition, that may enable us to get (from the UK) to Australia in perhaps as little as four hours.”
How does this new Hypersonic passenger airplane engine work?
The engine is a hybrid hydrogen air-breathing rocket that will fly the speed of Mach 5.4 in the atmosphere, increasing to Mach 25 in space.
Reaction Engines have been able to design an engine that uses pre-coolers consisting of thousands of thin-walled tubes, providing injection and removal of coolant for the necessary engine cooling process.
The hydrogen/oxygen engine is also much greener and cheaper to operate than today’s jet engines.
Cheaper and greener operating should also translate to passenger ticket prices well in check with the affordability of today’s air travel.
Reaction Engine hypersonic flight engine video
The video below explains how this new technology works.
Reaction Engines Test facilities
Reaction Engines are currently operating out of two test facilities. The first live engine ground tests in their Denver, Colorado facility is scheduled for the mid-2020s.
The other test facility is located in Westcott in the UK.
When can we expect the first commercial hypersonic flights to take place with passengers?
It is estimated that commercial flights on hypersonic airplanes will become the norm in the 2040s.
How would you like to fly from London to Sydney in 4 1/2 hours, or New York to London in just 1 hour?
The terms “long flight” or “ultra-long flight” could become history in as little as a couple of decades from now.
Expected to cruise at a speed of more than Mach 5 the performance and time-efficiency would outdo anything that engines limited to subsonic and supersonic speeds can possibly do today.
Shaun Driscoll, Reaction Engines Programmes Director
Shaun Driscoll leads the SABRE program team. He also manages the customer relationship with the space agencies. Here’s what he said during a recent UK Space Conference, in Newport, South Wales:
“The main thing with Sabre is, it’s like a hybrid of a rocket engine and an aero engine. So it allows a rocket to breathe air. Rockets haven’t really progressed in 70 years, whereas aero engines have become very efficient.”
“So, if you can combine an aero engine and a rocket you can have a very lightweight efficient propulsion system and basically create a space plane. The physics checks out but the challenge is building a test regime.”
Air travel and your comfort as a passenger
With advances rapidly emerging within the airplane and air travel technology, we have great things to look forward to. Those long, boring, and dreaded long and ultra-long flights will become a thing of the past. All airlines aim for safety and comfort for their passengers and crews alike.
Hypersonic air travel truly represents a giant step forward.
Featured Image: Reaction Engines.
Story updated July 21, 2020.