Britain says it will invest £60 million ($90 million) to advance cutting-edge propulsion technology in development at Reaction Engines Ltd (REL), a U.K.-based technology company that is building a reusable space vehicle.
The new investment, first mentioned in a June 1 budget document outlining the nation's 2013 spending plan, would target work on REL's Synergestic Air-Breathing Rocket (SABRE), a radical new motor that uses lightweight heat exchangers to chill the incoming airstream from over 1,000 deg. C. to minus 150 deg. C. in less than 1/100th of a second.
David Willetts, U.K. Minister for Universities and Science, is expected to discuss the new investment during a press conference in Glasgow this morning, touting SABRE's potential to transform access to space and giving Britain a leading position in a growing market of new generation launchers.
SABRE has already benefited from €2-3 million in co-financing from the European Space Agency (ESA) under a 2008 arrangement with ESA's ESTEC facility in Noorwijk, Netherlands. In August 2012, REL completed a series of tests managed by ESTEC under the jointly funded agreement.
In addition, last year REL made a surprise bid under ESA's New European Launch Services (NELS) program based on the company's single-stage-to-orbit Skylon rocket concept, which incorporates the SABRE motor design.
Although the bid was rejected, it caught the attention of ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain, who at the time said the company is onto something big that could lead to a radical departure in future launch vehicles. Last fall REL said it was negotiating a one-year agreement with ESA worth $1.3 million to support continued work on SABRE.
REL, which is more than 90% privately funded, needs to raise close to $400 million to continue SABRE development, including a Phase 3 sub-scale engine demonstration and flight motor design.