British engineers have made a breakthrough in their effort to develop a “spaceplane” that could travel between New York and London in less than an hour.
Reaction Engines, based in Oxfordshire, has tested a new technology at simulated speeds of Mach 3.3, or more than three times the speed of sound.
The company is working towards an ambition to create a reusable vehicle that combines the fuel efficiency of a jet engine with the power and speed of a rocket.
It also plans for the aircraft to travel at 25 times the speed of sound and to take people or payloads into space and return to Earth for a fraction of today’s costs.
The new technology, known as pre-cooler, allows the aircraft to travel at high speeds without the jet engine becoming too hot.
It is designed to lower the temperature of compressed air rushing through an engine from more than 1,000C to room temperature in one twentieth of a second, according to The Times.
The new experimental engine would be called Sabre and would work like an “air breathing rocket engine”.
From take-off to Mach 5.5, the Sabre would draw oxygen from the atmosphere were it would be ignited in a rocket combustion chamber alongside stored liquid hydrogen.
It would then switch to burning liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen from on-board fuel tanks, allowing it to reach 25 times the speed of sound to enter space.
Mark Thomas, the Reaction Engines chief executive, told the Times: “If you can pull it off, it’s a game changer. It kicks conventional rocket engines into touch.”