Are you ready for under-four hour air travel to anywhere in the world?


To the dismay of weary business travelers the world over, the idea of being able to get from one point on Earth to an entirely different point within four hours seems like either science fiction or the result of a particularly unambitious travel itinerary. But that may be about to change, with a British company announcing that it has successfully completed tests for a new rocket propulsion system that significantly changes consumer air travel – or, at least, the amount of time a consumer spends in the air – forever.

Reaction Engines has created a new type of jet engine that “breathes” air, something that allows the aircraft to move at speeds that Reaction claims are five times the speed of sound. Developed over a 20-year period, Reaction’s SABRE – which stands for Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine – can operate in two modes: “air-breathing” and “rocket,” a dual system that is being described as a “major breakthrough in propulsion worldwide.”

The breakthrough comes from the addition of this “air-breathing” mode to an orbit propulsion system for the first time, which allows vehicles using SABRE power to significantly lighten their load in terms of the on-board oxidant (such as liquid oxygen) necessary to keep conventional rocket engines going. Instead, SABRE’s air-breathing mode allows the vehicles to, in the words of Reaction, “[suck] in atmospheric air as a source of oxygen (as in a typical jet engine) to burn with its liquid hydrogen fuel in the rocket combustion chamber” before the engine switches to rocket mode above the atmosphere. This transformation, according to Reaction, “removes the necessity for massive throw-away first stages that are jettisoned once the oxidant they contain has been used up, allowing the development of the first fully re-usable space access vehicles such as Skylon.”

The European Space Agency has finished evaluating SABRE’s capabilities, and reported back that everything seems to be working out just fine. British Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, released a statement after the ESA’s thumbs-up, calling the SABRE “a remarkable achievement for a remarkable company” that demonstrated that “Britain remains at the forefront of technological innovation and can get ahead in the global race. This technology could revolutionize the future of air and space travel.”

Alan Bond, Reaction’s founder, said that the ESA’s testing “represent a fundamental breakthrough in propulsion technology” that will “force a radical re-think of the design of the underlying thermodynamic cycles of aerospace engines” and “open up completely different operational characteristics such as high Mach cruise and low-cost, re-useable space access.”

Further testing awaits, of course, but the question now exists: Which airline will be daring enough to offer the first hypersonic flights across the Atlantic (and beyond)?

Showing 28 comments

  1. Dan Stepura 1 year Ago  
    The engine might be able to take it but the airframe won't. They'll gave to design a completely new airframe and certify it, which will take at least a decade.
  2. Bianca Davis 1 year Ago  
    About friggin time!
  3. Greg Moore 1 year Ago  
    Good news.
  4. hbomb1947 1 year Ago  
    Wouldn't the sonic boom problem limit the places it could fly over, just as occurred with the Concorde?
    1. If it's flying above the atmosphere when hypersonic, I don't think that'd be an issue.

  5. Matt Moody 1 year Ago  
    Idk why they would suggest passenger airline hypersonic travel when they're still in testing of unmanned. Check out Boeing x51. Same thing.
  6. Realitista 1 year Ago  
    This always sounds nice, but in air travel it always comes down to cost, and faster is pretty much always more expensive. Remember the concord?
  7. Joanne Stevens 1 year Ago  
    That's great because it took 14 hours on a direct flight from LAX bound for Israel and I dislike long plane rides.
  8. Mark Wilkerson 1 year Ago  
    I thing what Perry was getting at is acceleration/deceleration g-forces. Civilians would not want to tolerate more than 2g's on departure and arrival. That means that not only would these engines be throttled way back on departure but the acceleration forces would go on for almost half the flight! A few minutes of "cruise" phase comfort and then arrival g forces in the opposite direction. I weight 240 so for most of the flight I would feel like I weigh almost 500lbs! This is a big issue for hypersonic commercial air travel.
    1. How exactly do you get those numbers?

      2Gs = ~20 m/s/s
      Mach 5 = ~ 1,700 m/s

      Time in seconds to accelerate at a rate of 2Gs to Mach 5 assuming constant acceleration: ~85 seconds.

      Keep in mind that the Shuttle rarely experiences more than 3Gs, and the first stage burn time is just over 2 minutes, getting up to several times this speed.
  9. Kenny M Yarbrough 1 year Ago  
  10. John Tison 1 year Ago  
    I like flying first class on long flights it's fun.
  11. Christophe Choo 1 year Ago  
    I can't wait, I miss the speed of the concorde!
  12. John R. Woodard Jr 1 year Ago  
    no dought, the British Company is probably B.A.E.
  13. openlyblack 1 year Ago  
    "Which airline will be daring enough to offer the first hypersonic flights across the Atlantic (and beyond)?"

    First, someone is going to have to build a passenger aircraft that uses the engine.
  14. Kevin Michael Stanley 1 year Ago  
    @Perry I'd assume it'd be fine as long as it doesn't turn too sharply
  15. James Baxley-family 1 year Ago  
    Wow, that's freaky...
  16. Greg Harrison 1 year Ago  
    Liquid Nitrogen? Shouldn't that be Liquid Oxygen?
  17. Perry Smith 1 year Ago  
    How do they solve the massive g-forces??
  18. Risto B. Rushford 1 year Ago  
    The potential for this one extends to space flight also. Think space ships that can take off like an airplane, fly into space. Not just around the earth but further out, say to the ISS. Then it can return, when returning to the atmosphere, using these engines again in the descent and landing, like an airplane.
  19. Cauri Jaye 1 year Ago  
    Ann, that's what they said about the car, wireless phone, computer, tv, running water, telephone...
  20. Rick Colburn 1 year Ago  
    Hopefully Ann, that's true, and when it fails, it's the Millionaires who go down with the ship (so to speak)
  21. Ann Marie Mickey Rector 1 year Ago  
    This is cool to hear, but no one will be able to afford this but millionaires!
  22. Kevin Moon 1 year Ago  
    “open up completely different operational characteristics such as high Mach cruise and low coat, re-useable space access.”

    Is that suppose to read: low cost, re-useable...?
  23. Clint Stantøn 1 year Ago  
    Concorde for 2012?
  24. Ken Bäcklund 1 year Ago  
    While shortening travel time is great, this way of travel is still not sustainable for our planet. I await the day when aperture science figures out how to open portals using quantum technology. And then there will be cake for everyone.
    1. I'm afraid that we likely won't be alive by the time that happens.

      Why not use underwater tubes? I think that is what Elon Musk is working on.

    2. If the human interest is taken into account in these researches, you would find portals are obsolete now.