back to article Brit Skylon spaceplane moves closer to lift-off

The European Space Agency (ESA) has chipped in €1m to study the viability of the Skylon spaceplane concept - a radical single stage to orbit (SSTO) vehicle whose motors use "a synthesis of elements from rocket and gas turbine technology". Artist's representation of the Skylon. Pic: Reaction Engines The Skylon According to …

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  1. ElectricFox
    Childcatcher

    Had the UK only invested more generously in this earlier

    Instead of bailing out banks and the financial ponzi moneylenders. Here's a way to leave a lasting impact on science, engineering and technology.

    God, I feel like a BBC commentard sometimes!

    1. Ged T

      Re: Had the UK only invested more generously in this earlier

      I absolutely agree - More than just 'Thought Leadership'; something tangible and of a positive benefit to the UK.

    2. Annihilator Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Had the UK only invested more generously in this earlier

      Sadly for science investments, hindsight is 20:20. To invest in Sabre more generously earlier would have been to invest in 50 other suggestions that look promising at the time but end up nowhere.

    3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: Had the UK only invested more generously in this earlier

      Well, it's still pork. But at least it's tasty pork.

      Make some sausages!

    4. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Boffin

      Re: Had the UK only invested more generously in this earlier

      "Instead of bailing out banks and the financial ponzi moneylenders. Here's a way to leave a lasting impact on science, engineering and technology."

      Well has you bothered to read the press release you'd know the money comes from ESA, not the BNSA.

      It's a charming idea but the REL core staff had plenty of that when they were part of the UK launcher industry and Concorde.

      They don't want to be a government project, with the "men from the ministry" always sniffing round and foisting their agendas on the programme.

      This money is about starting to firm up the whole business case and hardware story IE Skylon, the Upper Stage to tranfer comm sats to GEO (recommended by the ESA fasability study) and the nuts and bolts of a serious piece of concrete for the takoffs (Skylons burn so much propellant it's been stated they can land on grass after a successful orbital delivery).

      BTW Skylon is high risk in a way that, say, HS2 simply is not.

      It is also high return.

      1. Sweep

        Re: Had the UK only invested more generously in this earlier

        If you'd bothered to read the article;

        "Following testing, the ESA gave the precooling system the thumbs-up in November last year, prompting the British government to stump £60m towards the construction of a full SABRE prototype."

      2. annodomini2

        Re: Had the UK only invested more generously in this earlier

        Other than HS2 is a complete waste of money!

  2. Ged T
    Alien

    The Skylons are coming!

    Help us, OB1! You're our only help!

    1. brain_flakes
      Joke

      Re: The Skylons are coming!

      For the love of gods get your fracking pop-culture references right!

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: The Skylons are coming!

        So say we all!

        1. Fink-Nottle

          Re: The Skylons are coming!

          The Skylon pre-dates pop culture.

  3. breakfast

    Frakking Skylons

    It is good that it's getting cheaper and more convenient to put satellites in orbit.

    The one doubt I have is that sometimes people involved in spacey type stuff seem to imply that there really isn't that much room out there and we are already starting to jam up orbital space with random junk. Is that actually going to be a problem with more and more delivery systems available?

    1. Ged T

      Re: Frakking Skylons

      Given the possibility of much more frequent LEO excursions, I guess it would be possible to schedule fairly regular trash collections...

      1. AndrueC Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Frakking Skylons

        I guess it would be possible to schedule fairly regular trash collections...

        I have an idea.

        It's on YouTube if you're curious. Lousy video quality but watchable.

        1. Justicesays

          Re: Frakking Skylons

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetes

      2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Holmes

        Re: Frakking Skylons

        > schedule fairly regular trash collections...

        Sounds like the mob will be barging into that line of business, then.

        Why not?

    2. ElectricFox
      Go

      Re: Frakking Skylons

      More affordable delivery systems makes launching systems to de-orbit junk more affordable. We just need to work out the space law as to who pays for this service...

      Why isn't there a $DOLLAR icon?

    3. Annihilator Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Frakking Skylons

      A fair proportion of "space junk" exists because:

      a) all of our delivery methods leave a fair amount of waste up there as part of the launch - a reusable system like this wouldn't do that

      b) it's too expensive to clean up after ourselves - this could potentially change all that

    4. WonkoTheSane
      Thumb Up

      Re: Frakking Skylons

      Easily fixed:- http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064691/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

  4. Roo

    Can you get a refund if a Carrier is not fit for purpose ?

    Because at the end of the day Skylon is looking more likely than an armed war plane taking off from the new carriers that BAE are building for us.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Can you get a refund if a Carrier is not fit for purpose ?

      Isn't that "not building for us"?

      What's happening to the F-35? I hear rumors of "F-35 a shit", "unfit" and "cancellation"...

    2. Lenford

      Re: Can you get a refund if a Carrier is not fit for purpose ?

      Who needs carriers and war plans if you have space. ROCK FIGHT!

  5. andy gibson

    HOTOL

    I'm still waiting for HOTOL.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HOTOL

    1. DrXym Silver badge

      Re: HOTOL

      Skylon is the successor to HOTOL though hopefully it has more luck in being implemented.

    2. GregC
      Thumb Up

      Re: I'm still waiting for HOTOL.

      Skylon pretty much is HOTOL, or at least it's spiritual successor - from the wiki article you linked:

      In 1989, HOTOL co-creator Alan Bond formed Reaction Engines Limited (REL) which has since been working on the Skylon vehicle intended to solve the problems of HOTOL.

    3. Steven Raith

      Re: HOTOL

      Skylons co-founder, Alan Bond, was the co-creator of HOTOL - in fact, the core Skylon team are al ex-HOTOL engineers.

      Skylon is basically HOTOL that might actually work.

      Steven R

  6. Pet Peeve

    Godspeed guys, this looks like it could be a great thing.

    What the HELL happened to reg comments? The indentation isn't a bad idea, but columns two words wide? Really?

    1. S4qFBxkFFg
      FAIL

      I think it's a Firefox thing (Chrome and IE work fine for me); they could probably use another data point though, so email them with the details: http://www.theregister.co.uk/Page/problem.html

      (Occasionally you see weird line breaks in the articles as well.)

  7. Frogmelon

    Has anyone noticed the similarity in shape between this and the spaceships in the 1950's classic science fiction film "When Worlds Collide" (and films of similar ilk).

    Whenever I see pictures of this thing, I have flashbacks to when I saw the film as a five-year-old on TV, as the people desperately raced to escape planet Earth as imminent doom threatened :)

    1. Frogmelon

      Though I guess they both look similar to V1 Doodlebugs...

    2. Andrew Newstead

      Good, isn't it?

      About time we had a rocketship that looks like a rocketship.

    3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Meh

      "Has anyone noticed the similarity in shape between this and the spaceships in the 1950's classic science fiction film "When Worlds Collide" (and films of similar ilk)."

      Well strictly it resembles the AVRO 730 M3 reconnaissance bomber designed in the mid 1950s but cancelled by that rampant cockhoud idiot Duncan Sandys. Engines on tip pods and IIRC the forward canard.

      However most people go for the SR71, but the engines are mid wing and the canted twin tails.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Think of the rest

    So how will this technology be used to change the world? (i.e. Can we use this for commercial travel?) What about the unforeseen advancements from the technology.

    1. Eponymous Cowherd
      Thumb Up

      Re: Think of the rest

      "Can we use this for commercial travel?"

      That'd be a yes......

      LAPCAT A2

      1. graeme leggett

        Re: Think of the rest

        Skylon could be the de Havilland Comet of spaceplanes - but only in a good way, I hope.

        (at its time there was nothing like Comet, the Avro Canada C102 Jetliner was a jet transport design but it doesn't look the part. )

      2. Anomalous Cowturd
        Meh

        LAPCAT A2

        That looks ominously like something that needed help from International Rescue back when I was a nipper.

        Thunderbirds are go!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Think of the rest

      "What about the unforeseen advancements from the technology."

      They're, erh, unforeseen at the moment

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Happy

        AC@14:07

        They're, erh, unforeseen at the moment

        Although Alan Bond has indicated that they taking another look at the heat exchanger mfg technology.

        This was too expensive for F1 teams to use, despite the much smaller size radiators that would result (there's a lot of stuff that needs cooling on an F1 car. Much more so than your civilian motor).

        He estimates they can cut the cost 5-10x.

        For a rather pedestrian idea this would give a domestic GCH boiler about the size of a VHS video cassette.

        Beyond that who would benefit from a very compact high efficiency heat transfer system?

        1. Muscleguy Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: AC@14:07

          "Beyond that who would benefit from a very compact high efficiency heat transfer system?"

          Better than a Peltier you mean?

          1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
            Meh

            Re: AC@14:07

            Better than a Peltier you mean?

            AFAIk the conversion efficiency (electrical power in to energy you can remove from the load) is <10%.

            That's rubbish by most standards. They are handy for compactness and no moving parts (including a collant fluid if you have the power system to sustain them.

        2. Ryan 7

          Re: AC@14:07

          F1 teams can *afford* a lot more than they're allowed to spend by the racing rules.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Gimp

    Keep the government (and EU), out if it.

    Every time they get involved in something, eight noughts are added to the right of the original cost.

    Now, where is my old Dan Dare pace helmet??? Oh, I suppose this one will do for now.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Keep the government (and EU), out if it.

      Nonsense. They can print the zeros. Exactly why they should fund high risk, wide reward, engineering advancement.

  10. MJI Silver badge

    I just want to see it fly

    This would be good, last time space was really exciting was in the early 70s.

    Aircraft, why are museum pieces better to watch than in service stuff?

    (Think Vulcan, Concorde, SHAR)

    1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: I just want to see it fly

      Yeah, saw Vulcan XH558 flying at a small show in Welshpool a couple of months back. God, they're magnificent beasts!

      And we have to rely on charity to keep it flying. http://www.vulcantothesky.org/

    2. FutureShock999

      Re: I just want to see it fly

      and don't forget the B-70 Valkyrie and Skylon's spiritual father, the SR-71 (well, for the dual-mode engine tech, at least)...

      1. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

        Re: I just want to see it fly

        ...the B-70 Valkyrie and Skylon's spiritual father, the SR-71...

        I don't know where you get your history from, but I'm guessing that it's somewhere west of the Atlantic?

        The Skylon (and its 'predecessor', HOTOL, are developments in air-breathing hybrid jet/rocket technology.

        The B-70 and, to a lesser extent, the SR-71 are fast top-of-atmosphere jets using wave-rider technology. Quite a different thing. Wave-rider technology was invented by Terence Nonweiler, of Belfast University and later St Andrews. Another Brit.

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

          Re: I just want to see it fly

          "I don't know where you get your history from, but I'm guessing that it's somewhere west of the Atlantic?"

          Sounds likely.

          "The B-70 and, to a lesser extent, the SR-71 are fast top-of-atmosphere jets using wave-rider technology. Quite a different thing. Wave-rider technology was invented by Terence Nonweiler, of Belfast University and later St Andrews. Another Brit."

          Sorry but AFAIK the SR71 used fairly conventional aerodynamics with the shock wave forming ahead of the wing (the sweep angle gives the actual maximum speed based on supersonic theory).

          The XB70 used an idea developed by a Dr Eggers of NACA (at the time) he called "compression lift," but I suspect it's certainly moving into waverider territory.

  11. Robert Forsyth

    All that space junk could form a shield against some space rocks

    Use this to attach remote controls to the junk

    With enough junk, the planet would have a roof, and cool down, would it still rain?

  12. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    I forsee a teensy problemette...

    ...The ultimate aim is to make the Skylon system truly 100 per cent reusable. Italy's Thales Alenia Space (TAS) is mulling the secondary propulsion unit, and the hope is that this will, after delivering its satellite, make its way back to the spaceplane for return to base. ...

    The secondary propulsion unit, if it's a rocket, will need to impart a load of extra energy to the payload. That energy will ALL have to be bled off in some way if the rocket is to return to the Skylon. In other words, you will need twice the impulse power.

    Of course, if the Skylon SHOT the payload into a higher orbit, the reaction force would slow the Skylon down, and assist it to re-enter. That seems to me to be a much better use of the energy budget...

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: I forsee a teensy problemette...

      Not necessarily.

      The Skylon would be suborbital, dropping off the transfer craft and then descending back to Earth of its own accord.

      The transfer craft then burns to put the sat into the proper orbit.

      To recover the transfer craft, wait until the next Skylon launch and play swopsies - transfer B is launched, and transfer A is recovered around apogee.

      The delta-v needed for that isn't too bad - though the timing is well beyond my meagre Kerbal Space Program abilities!

      1. DropBear

        Re: I forsee a teensy problemette...

        The only teensy problem with that is that the article _explicitly_ mentions the aircraft being propelled to mach 25, which happens to be the exact orbital velocity for a full low earth orbit - not suborbital stuff. Granted, I'm all ears about where this thing keeps its reentry heat shield.

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: I forsee a teensy problemette...

          So it does, I'd got that confused with the Mach 5.5 bit.

          That makes the re-use of the transfer tug considerably easier as it could be retrieved in the same mission, assuming the Skylon can stay on-orbit for long enough.

          They intend to use the aeroshell itself as the heatshield, coupled with refrigeration using the last bit of cryogenic hydrogen.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Frisbee time

    While I certainly hope this all works, I do have a problem with the layout of the vehicle. Engines on the ends of the wings present some interesting structural and aerodynamic problems. First, the wing has to be stronger, and is going to be quite complicated with all the fuel lines, engine control systems, etc., running through it. More important is this - in this configuration, an engine-out is going to make a frisbee out of the vehicle, there isn't enough rudder or vectorable thrust available to keep going straight.

    The engines really need to be mounted closer together, on the tail, think DC-9 or Lear Jet, and there needs to be some way to maintain directional stability in yaw despite the VERY asymmetrical thrust resulting from an engine-out event. Remember that the higher the performance and power output, the closer you are to the bleeding edge of technology. In this device, an engine-out situation is likely to be catastrophic.

    Make the engines work, redesign the airframe, and THEN try it.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Frisbee time

      I disagree.

      The engines become the heaviest part of the craft very quickly after launch, and by the time it's coming in for landing the fuselage is an empty tube.

      Unless the engines are in the middle it's going to be ungodly unstable, likely impossible to control once back in atmosphere.

      I'll take "screwed if engine flames out" over "screwed on every approach"

      Also, if an engine flames out it may still be possible to safely abort and rescue the craft and payload, if it's going fast enough.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        Re: Frisbee time

        "The engines become the heaviest part of the craft very quickly after launch, and by the time it's coming in for landing the fuselage is an empty tube."

        Correct.

        That engines-at-the back was one of the things that killed HOTOL. SOP for rockets but they realizes once you put wings on the structure the whole game changes. Realizing that putting the engines in the middle (with the payload pay in fact) were key features in turning HOTOL into Skylon.

        Engines-at-the back at the back is also why no human pilot could directly fly the Shuttle.

        Actually Skylon is designed to be statically stable. That's important because like Shuttle it will make a glide landing. Even REL could not come up with a way to do a powered landing, although given the craft will be at least 78% lighter on landing (more given a successful payload deployment) it should not be far off carrying enough LH2 for a 2nd pass.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Frisbee time

        Thanks for mentioning that. If the weight distribution is like a dumbbell, this is said to be "having a high polar moment of rotation", which means that once spinning - frisbee style - it is going to be almost impossible to stop.

        This means the craft as shown in the artist's renderings has TWO major problems.

        1) Huge asymmetrical thrust in an engine-out event, instant frisbee (yaw) and uncorrectable by any aerodynamic means (i.e instant disaster). While there will need to be attitude thrusters for out-of-atmosphere pitch, roll, and yaw changes, they won't be able to compensate for a main engine failure, and that tiny little vertical stabilizer/rudder is far too inadequate even at lower altitudes.

        These are very powerful engines, and if one of them fails, the remaining engine's thrust at the end of a long arm is going to whip the craft around instantly and very vigorously, so yes, we're all going to die. Relax, it will be quick. Very quick.

        2) Engines at the rear, as in DC-9 and Lear might result in an aft CG at zero fuel, and I do remember that most aircraft are not "empty tubes" but are full of people and things so the CG doesn't shift drastically - but in this case, if most of the fuselage is fuel tank, the aft CG will be a problem.

        Lets put the engines close together, mounted near the CG of the aircraft, probably over (Honda jet) or under (ME-262) the wings. We don't want them so close together that a failure in one will propagate to the other (as in TU-144 and B-70), but we do want them as close as possible to the longitudinal center line of the aircraft so we don't wind up with the asymmetrical thrust problem.

        All aircraft are a collection of compromises flying in formation. This particular drawing seems to have been done by a publicist, any aeronautical engineer would reject this configuration in a heartbeat.

        I do support this project and hope they are ultimately successful, but I doubt the final aircraft is going to look very much like the picture.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Frisbee time

          Or alternatively, we can assume that the project team are aware of all those issues and have an understanding of aerodynamics and have chosen this layout as the best compromise.

  14. Nya

    Why things going up?

    Surely if they prove this works with the prototype, forget the cheapass way to launch satellites, surely selling the mach 5+ bomber might be more open to buyers no?

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