Air-Breathing Rocket Engine Promises Future Space Planes

If you are a certain age, you probably remember the promise of supersonic transports. The Concorde took less than 4 hours to go across the Atlantic, but it stopped flying in 2003 and ended commercial supersonic passenger flights  But back in the 1970s, we thought the Concorde would give way not to older technology, but to newer. After all, man had just walked on the moon and suborbital transports could make the same trip in 30 minutes and — according to Elon Musk — go between any two points on the Earth in an hour or less. A key component to making suborbital flights as common as normal jet travel is a reasonable engine that can carry a plane to the edge of space. That’s where the UK’s Sabre engine comes into play. Part jet and part rocket, the engine uses novel new technology and two different operating modes to power the next generation of spaceplane. The BBC reports that parts of the new engine will undergo a new phase of testing next month.

The company behind the technology, Reaction Engines, Ltd, uses the engine in an air-breathing jet mode until it hits 5.5 times the speed of sound. Then the same engine becomes a rocket and can propel the vehicle at up to 25 times the speed of sound.

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The Kickstarter Space Cannon

cannon

As far as space travel and Kickstarter is concerned, we’ve seen crowdfunding projects for satellites in low earth orbit, impacting the moon, and even a project for a suborbital rocket. This one, though, takes the cake.  It’s a gun designed to send very small payloads into space on a suborbital trajectory.

The gun itself is an 8-inch bore, 45-foot long monster of an artillery piece. While the simplest way of shooting something down the length of a barrel would be exploding something in the breech, [Richard] is doing something a little more interesting. He’s broken down the propellent charges so instead of one giant propelling a bullet down a barrel, the projectile is constantly accelerated with a number of smaller charges.

The goal of the Kickstarter is to send a small payload into a suborbital trajectory. Later developments will include putting a small rocket motor in the dart-shaped bullet to insert the payload into an orbit.

This isn’t the first time anyone has attempted to build a gun capable of shooting something into space. The US and Canada DOD built a gun that shot a 180 kg projectile to 180 km altitude. The lead engineer of this project, [Gerald Bull] then went on to work with [Saddam Hussein] to design a supergun that could launch satellites into orbit or shells into downtown Tel Aviv or Tehran. [Bull] was then assassinated by either the US, Israeli, Iranian, British, or Iraqi governments before the gun could be completed.

Two videos from the Kickstarter are below, with a few more details on the project’s webpage

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