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Confidence in SKYLON

24 May 2011


The UK Space Agency’s SKYLON technical assessment which was produced by the European Space Agency (ESA) has concluded that there are no significant barriers that would prevent successful continued development of the SKYLON Spaceplane.


Artist's impression of the SKYLON spaceplane taking off from a runway. Credit: Reaction Engines Ltd (JPG, 1.8 Mb) 
Artist's impression of the SKYLON spaceplane taking off from a runway.
Credit: Reaction Engines Ltd

The report states that:

Success on future engine test would mean "a major breakthrough in propulsion worldwide"

The engine and vehicle can be developed with "today's current technology"

Reaction Engines will conduct an important demonstration of the engine's key pre-cooler technology later in the summer.

SKYLON is an unpiloted, reusable single stage to orbit (SSTO) spaceplane that will provide reliable access to space and be capable of delivering payloads of up to 15 tonnes into Low Earth Orbit (LEO, approx. 300km) at about 1/50th of the cost of traditional expendable launch vehicles, such as rockets. SKYLON’s SABRE engines use liquid hydrogen combined with oxygen from the air at altitudes up to 26km and speeds of up to Mach 5, before switching over to on-board liquid oxygen for the final stage of ascent.

The SKYLON technical assessment concluded that ‘no impediments or critical items have been identified for either the SKYLON vehicle or the SABRE engine that are a block to further developments’.

Artist's impression of SKYLON in orbit. Credit: Reaction Engines Ltd (JPG, 799 Kb) 
Artist's impression of SKYLON in orbit.
Credit: Reaction Engines Ltd

Dr David Parker, Director of Technology, Science and Exploration at the UK Space Agency, said, "Both SABRE and SKYLON are exciting new technologies which could transform access to space. ESA's positive assessment should give everyone increased confidence that Reaction Engines are on the right track. We are looking forward to the upcoming technology tests with interest.”

The UK Space Agency’s technical assessment process was comprised of two parts. The first was a series of visits by technical teams from ESA to review Reaction Engines’ designs and witness critical tests of component performance.

Artist's impression of SKYLON after landing. Credit: Reaction Engines Ltd (JPG, 1.8 Mb) 
Artist's impression of SKYLON after landing.
Credit: Reaction Engines Ltd

The second part was the SKYLON System Requirement Review, held on the 20th and 21st September 2010, at which almost 100 international aerospace experts posed questions and made comments on SKYLON’s technical and economic feasibility

Alan Bond, inventor of the SABRE engine and Reaction Engines’ Managing Director, commented: “Space has many things to offer humanity, but the sheer expense of rockets - which have served us well in the past - is inhibiting the growth of commercial activity in space.  To take one example, SKYLON promises to cut the cost of launching communication satellites, on which the digital revolution depends, by an order of magnitude. SKYLON will be fully commercial to operate and develop - generating jobs and investment for UK plc. We are delighted that this independent report from the UK Space Agency expresses confidence in SKYLON."

Download the UK Space Agency's SKYLON technical assessment produced by ESA. (PDF, 362 Kb) 

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