Very mixed feelings about this
It's an extra £20m in the REL war chest.
If you look up "Government con-tractor" in a British dictionary they would be the entry.
The UK's Reaction Engines Limited has announced a healthy injection of funds into the development of its revolutionary SABRE (Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine) power system. The company has inked a deal with BAE Systems, which will "invest £20.6m in Reaction Engines to acquire 20 per cent of its share capital and also …
BAe do have a habit of milking the the Defense budget for all its worth, but can you blame them or any company for that?
It's those responsible for awarding and overseeing the contracts that are to blame - if they are too ignorant to realise that they are paying BAe to re-invent the wheel then it's not BAE's fault.
Timeand again, we see various Defense Contracts being awarded which then overrun with absolutely no penalities being imposed or those responsible for awarding the contract being held accountable.
Interestingly being the local MP for a chunk of BAe can get you made a defence minister with an interest in procurement. His name is Sir Peter James Luff and I'm sure* this is entirely above board, just as his expenses were found to be**.
*Not at all sure,
**bent as a nine bob note
"t's those responsible for awarding and overseeing the contracts that are to blame - if they are too ignorant to realise that they are paying BAe to re-invent the wheel then it's not BAE's fault."
What also happens is that somewhere in the spec is a number that seemed like a good idea at the time, but in reality is very difficult to achieve. Large amounts of budget are spent trying to hit this number only to find that it was not particularly critical and a far easier value would have been perfectly acceptable in operation.
"BAe do have a habit of milking the the Defense budget for all its worth, but can you blame them or any company for that?"
Yes I bloody well can, and do so. Because it's just not fair. That's just like stealing cash from that blind, crippled, deaf kid selling newspapers in front of a disused tube station. And stealing the newspapers too.
The problem is that BAE don't bid fairly. Ever.
Here's what happens:
1) BAE smell fresh pork.
2) BAE remind Whitehall how many people in the UK they employ
3) "Nice jobs you have there. Shame if anything were to happen to them"
5) BAE smell more pork
6) "Nice Defence Project you have there. Shame if anything were to happen to it"
7) MORE PORK!
You'd need to be incredibly hard nosed to turn BAE down for an MoD contract.
And you both missed out the bit where the top civil servant who negotiated the financially disastrous contract, and/or the minister who signed it off, inexplicably end up about two years later earning a six-figure salary for two days work a week on the board of BAE.
"quietly siphon jobs from the UK to the US"
How else will the US allow a supersonic transport to operate in their airspace? If they don't build it or at least have a significant interest in it, it won't be allowed to fly supersonic in case it curdles the milk in cows.
You are of course, complete right - but how stupid must the Civil "Servants" or the relevent Minister be (or how corrupt) to fall for the same trick time after time after time?
BAe spot a ploy that works and HMG keeps falling for it - Blair/Brown are two notable muppets for falling for that ploy over the QE Class Carriers.
Timeand again, we see various Defense Contracts being awarded which then overrun with absolutely no penalities being imposed or those responsible for awarding the contract being held accountable.
Playing devil's advocate here, maybe some of the contracts are to build things that have never been built before* and probably on the bleeding edge of technology.
I'm not sure any company would give you a fixed price/time contract in such circumstances.
* I'm excluding the idea that another country may have already made it and you don't want to/can't buy from them.
US:Elon Musk we'll be on Mars.
UK:We might have an engine thats only taken 20 years to develop.
There's times when I am ashamed on how small our reach is. Remember when we just did things. For all their faults (and there are hideously many) thats one thing our American cousins dont lack.
"UK:We might have an engine thats only taken 20 years to develop."
...and the 30 years it has been in development so far. Reaction Engines are the current torchholder for the HOTOL project which was announced mid-80s and given minimal funding by HMG.
The Sabre engine would represent a genuine leap in technology, but wouldn't get you to Mars.
When (if?) it goes into production it will get you to LEO, and as any fule kno, getting to orbit means you're 90% of you way to anywhere, at least in terms of energy expended. So no, a sabre-powered craft probably won't take you directly to Mars, but it doesn't need to. It only needs to deliver you to ship that takes you on the last leg of the journey.
"The Sabre engine would represent a genuine leap in technology, but wouldn't get you to Mars."
No, but cheap and frequent trips to LEO, even with "only" 15 tonnes per trip might be a useful stepping stone to building or even just fuelling an interplanetary manned ship.
I can take your criticism of the UK, but holding the USA up as a better example? Come on. Elon Musk hasn't managed to make Tesla profitable yet; it only exists because of billions of dollars of government subsidies. I approve of his can-do attitude, but he hasn't gone to Mars yet. And he's more the exception rather than the rule, in any case.
I actually see Space/X and REL as nicely complementary.
The Sabre engine is good for the taxi service to LEO and the occasional satellite.
That frees up Space/X and their conventional (ish) rockets to concentrate on the heavy lifting and far-off destinations.
One might be more exciting than the other, but both are necessary.
US We'll build quite a good LOX Kero gas generator rocket engine, which has has been done 20-40 times already using the "Bank of Elon" to fund it.
UK. We'll build a deeply pre cooled turbo rocket engine (which is what SABRE technically is) that will deliver an Isp about 6x that of the best rocket engines (while in the atmosphere) and allow you to build a Single Stage to Orbit vehicle with the same payload fraction as a 2 stage rocket (something no previous SSTO has come anywhere near deliving)
And we'll have to raise the money from investors who will demand a return on investment at every stage of the process.
"something no previous SSTO has come anywhere near delivering"
Correct me if I'm wrong, but no one has ever built a working SSTO*, and this one is reusable as well. If they can make it work, it would be far more of a step forward in spaceflight than anything Space X has managed (and Space X have managed some bloody impressive stuff).
* Single Stage To Orbit, ie a single vehicle that can fly all the way into space, without having to drop empty fuel tanks or boosters off along the way
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but no one has ever built a working SSTO*,
True. A number have been proposed, some to high levels of detail.
"and this one is reusable as well. "
Virtually all have been proposed as reusable.
Historically all SSTO's have accepted you'd have to lose payload fraction, usually from the c3% of GTOW to about 1%.
Since people work out required funding levels from GTOW ("Cost Estimating Relationships") that is a very important secondary metric for anyone proposing an SSTO.
"it would be far more of a step forward in spaceflight than anything Space X has managed "
the Fireflash used a nuclear reactor to heat air passing through what were effectively ramjets. The heat transfer from the reactor to the jets was via Sodium-Potassium alloy - an extremely flammable/water reactive liquid metal which has good thermal conductivity (its used as the primary cooling circuit in nuclear subs)
Of course that wouldn't give any initial thrust at startup as the air needs to be moving through the jet before you can heat it, so initial takeoff was powered by what were described as "chemical engines" but were presumably solid fuel rockets
information remembered from TV21's Christmas annuals back in the 1960's, the technical detail was quite surprising given the target audience
The problem is less the ambition of getting to mars than the cost of doing so. Assuming the concept works, it's an ambitious enough project to engage that. One that the US doesn't really grapple with either. Note Boeing/Lockheed don't even compete on rockets, they conglomerated into United Launch Alliance instead; one of spacex's complaints being they weren't even allowed to bid, at one point. Of course BAE could probably lecture any of them on the conglomerate game; I'm sure it will be messed up, or made sufficiently expensive that there's no ultimate advantage (or like jets in the first place, given away).
The question is why the government put cash to the project now. It's not a chinese reactor, german rail company or korean/spanish investor and/or water company, and not even a bank. What's their angle?
"or like jets in the first place, given away"
To be fair, pretty much all British secret tech was passed to the Yanks on the basis that Germany was about to invade and it might be nice if anything we had developed should be passed over somewhere less likely to be used by an insane dictator. Further tech "secrets" developed later were also passed over in part payment for the various help given by the US. In hindsight it does seem like a silly thing to do, but it really was a very different time back then. Although AFAIK we never passed over the Colossus stuff.
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If you look to the investment in British aviation from 1945 to 1960 (roughly), when Britain had an edge in aircraft and aero-engine design, it's (nearly) all government (Ministry of Supply) money being used by the companies to get things done.
There's a few private-funded things going on in the big companies but not much as money was tight.
For an example, the Westland Westminster heavy lift helicopter. When the government funding was curtailed, Westland sent the loaned Sikorsky rotor/gearbox used in the prototype back to the States rather than pay import duty on it.
That is the M5 300 seat passenger aircraft project. LAPCAT and LAPCAT II. By Lapcat II their only competitor was the M8 German Kerosene SCRamjet, which seemed to have a lower heating load (if you could make a SCRamjet 10s of metres wide work).
It was funded under an EU framework agreement. Brussels paid the bill so they get to choose the reference flight path IIRC it was Brussels Canberra.
I really hope this project succeeds, however, it will be interesting to see how they manage the higher loading on the engine compared to a "standard" gas turbine.
If the text of the article is right, the plan is to compress air that is almost already in a liquid state, so there's not much more compressing that can be done before it becomes a liquid and is therefore almost incompressible.
i.e. the "relatively conventional turbo compressor" is going to be a pretty exotic design, relatively speaking...
EU rules sayath that UK Plc can't do that.
Apparently nobody in the government has the intelligence to simply gift a big wad of cash to the Crown Estate and then have them take shares, which can then be sold as an investment at a later point. (100% of the "profits" of the crown estate are remitted to HM Treasury, as per the 1701 act of settlement)
It's probably to ensure the thrust line goes through the centre of mass, bearing in mind that the engines are attached to wings on the underside of the craft, and thus below the centre of mass. Thrust line not being through centre of mass is Not Good once you're in space (or at such altitude that aerodynamic effects can't keep you stable).
"The top part was made with ESA funding and is measured in meters, the bottom in yards but if you push hard enough it still fits."
Have a pint!
Though I think it's more likely that it's something to do with slowing down the incoming air so the cooler thing has a chance to work and the turbines don't have to deal with supersonic airflows...
i actually met a few of the Reaction Engine guys at a conference a few years ago and did ask this qustion. Regrettably I don't recall the exact answer but it was along the lines of wanting some down vector to the thrust whilst the airflow was straight (with respect to the fuselage)
I remember being at the UK Space Conference in Glasgow in 2013 when the first investment of £60m was announced and speaking to some REL folk there. I think it went something like this:
When in air-breathing mode, it is best if your intake is horizontal. However, once you go high enough, there's not enough atmosphere to give more lift (I guess this is what we count as space where going fast enough for sufficient lift just gives you local circular orbital velocity) so the thrust needs to have a vertical component to take you higher still hence the back of the engine is slightly curved down. I guess all you need to make sure then is that the thrust vector still is on the line through your centre of mass.
Simple enough on paper, but Reaction Engines notes: "In air-breathing mode, the air must be compressed to around 140 atmospheres before injection into the combustion chambers which raises its temperature so high that it would melt any known material."
Why does 'unobtainium' pop into my mind? But by all means, go for it! The possible spin-offs alone would make it woth while.
I can't believe the Government isn't falling over itself to throw money at this project. Not only is it one of the best ideas to come out of this country in several decades it would be a huge PR win to be seen to be investing in home grown engineering and technology - something they get beaten up for not doing on a regular basis. The crazy thing is that it wouldn't even cost that much to find out if it'll work. I'd say start with about half a billion and if it looks like it's working shovel the money in until we are the go to country for getting things into space cheaply.
I don't think the powers that be understand how much of a win this project will be if it works. The fact that several private companies are developing space launch systems says to me that there's really good money to be made getting stuff into space. It's a tough job though and the company that can do it the cheapest is going to win massively. I suspect whoever makes an engine like sabre will in the end win the race and own the launch market for years.
I've never understood this either, especially from the current government, seeing as how the Conservative party are always on about how wonderful business, capitalism and all that are. I mean, I basically agree with them in broad strokes, but surely if investing in things and making money off them is such a good thing, why are they so reluctant to do it?
This is clearly a technology worth a fortune. If you own a percentage on the profits from a company that has a patent on the only SStO technology you're on the gravy train for years to come. Why on earth WOULDN'T you want that?
So BAe are now buying into Reaction Engines which is the follow on of a project that was started 30+ years ago by British Aerospace & Rolls Royce, which when funding stopped the lead engineers continued to work on and started Reaction Engines (including working out how to get round patents they wrote but didn't have the rights to in the new company)...
I really do hope they've worked out a bunch of the problems from the first time round and that this time they can get an engine that works
HOTOL had three main problems.
1 - they wanted full liquifaction of the air, which meant they ended up using waaay more hydrogen than they could burn. SABRE doesn't cool the air down that much, but even then there's spill-over in air-breathing mode.
2 - having the engine at the back led to problems as the centre of mass and centre of lift shifted through the flight profile. This is why SKYLON's engines are on nacelles.
3 - HOTOL had a launch sled which turned out to be a massive pain in the arse. Skylon doesn't.
Also, there are also advances in materials technology that help the design to close as well,
Oh, Yeah Like Hey Men and Women. I was like the graphic designer back when and they said 'Do us one of these. Long with wings in the middle and the usual front and back bits.' So I roughed one up in blue and sent it back for appraisal and they come back and tell me they want it in black and I forgot to put the engines on and like they like want it in four hours with animations 'cause they are going to press' the next day. Hey I'm already on my fifth spliff and now I have a serious deadline so I drop some LSD and go into overdrive so they get the answer back within three and a half hours... I think it was something like that, and they phone me back yammering on about how cool it looks what with being black and the animation stuff and the curved engines and the way they integrate into something or another and I'm like 'curved engines!?' But everything has sort of gone swirly by then until I wake up the next morning with a dry mouth in a pile of vomit next to my bed. Anyway... much... later on in the day when my head feels almost right I check my e-mails and they have published all the marketing literature and I go look at the web site and I'm like 'whoa shit! curved engines. Which crazy Dude came up with that idea? So I potter about for a bit 'cause I'm feeling kind of fragile and later on the Girl Freud comes around with stuff to cook and after special cheese cake we retire to bed, like don't worry I had tidied up the previous. Right... during the farting competition the next morning under the duvet the phone goes off so she gets it then breaks me off mid trump with an elbow in the ear and says it's some Chief Engineering Bloke from Nylon and I'm like 'What?' because although it is my portfolio I haven't done anything to do with Lingerie for ages ever since... well, best not mentioned. So I take the phone and say 'Like Hi, How can I help?' and I end up getting called all bastards under the Sun for about five minutes until this Dude runs out of breath so having reached the 'word in edgeways' period I ask 'What's the problem Dude' and he says 'They're Curved!', he still sounds a bit tetchy. Now I really do not have a clue as to what is going on here so I take my best shot and suggest.. 'Yes. A Woman's legs are kind of curvy which is what makes Nylon such a good encasement material since it conforms delicately but tightly with the form whilst camouflaging the inherent imperfections in the fe-....' Crap!' I thought I was on a roll there but my left kidney has just suffered an assault from the Girl Freud and the Dude on the phone has gone ballistic about Nylons. I am now standing up and he runs out of breath again. I'm slightly worried he might go terminal so I ask. 'Who are you and what is the problem.' There is a long pause and I think I might be lucky and can hang up but then he draws breath and says 'I am the Chief Engineer at Skylon. The Engines are Curved!' There still seems to be a bit of acid in his voice.. Like, now I'm on the case. It's got nothing to do with Lingerie but those curved engine things that they put up on their web site yesterday having babbled on at me about how good they looked so I'm like... 'Well your marketing department thought they were good like how they integrated into things and stuff and I was sort of wondering which Cool Dude came up with the concept but like I did all the stuff they wanted in the specification, you know.. long, two wings, some other bits and a couple of engines... and in black, and they seemed happy. What's the problem?' He's silent for a while and then I hear gentle sobbing interspersed with some sort of repeated 'They're Curved' Mantra. So I take my cue and in order to avoid more kidney disruption do a bit of Yoga and ohming on the floor. Eventually he goes quiet for a bit, sniffs and then asks if we can meet so I'm like OK cool and he drops by and explains stuff. Apparently curved engines are a bad idea but now the 'higher ups' have released the marketing material, which they think is brilliant, he now has to come up with a curved engine which is not going to work. I take the opportunity to suggest he is not 'thinking outside of the box' and he collapses in a fit of giggles. Possibly something to do with the chocolate and bran flake muffins. At this point the Girl Freud interjects and asks if anyone else knows that curved engines don't work so we both collapse in a fit of giggles and then go catatonic in a deep thought phase. Mine appears to last longer, I appear to be more attuned to chocolate and bran flake muffins than our new acquaintance, because when I next reach for a slice of toast he is talking to my Girl Freuds Girl Freud. Thankfully they have already explained that they are monogamous bisexuals and I am just a 'bit of spare' for when the Girl Freud feels like a break so I do not represent a threat to him in a man to man sense. He seems to be good with the concept and, if I am not mistaken, is blatantly flirting with the Girl Freud's Girl Freud. Now, assuming you have suspended your disbelief so far, and at the risk of another elbow in the ear I will not go Deus ex Machina. In as much as I am a visual artist my Girl Freud practices her art in the arty side of literature. She actually gets a bit pissed off when I have to do work shit that involves drawing 'Machines of Destruction' when she could support us with her contributions to 'Mills and Boon'. However I am foolishly concerned about my own independence. However her Girl Freud is also into literature but the darker side of things along with a healthy lashing of Science Fiction and 'the match is made'. My new Engineer friend becomes my Girl Freud's Girl Freud's 'bit of spare' and is quite happy with the arrangement for reasons other than sex and farting under the duvet in the morning. It became quite easy to explain why curved engines are quite good to his lesser colleagues and have them pass on the message to a wider audience and.... I feel an emptiness in my head. A void that is filled with the words 'Wouldn't they look better if they were curved?'
The Government are only putting money in to keep an eye on it (they didn't think it would work and pulled the plug on HOTOL many years ago but then fought tooth and nail to not allow the Skylon project to go ahead). BAE will put sticky fingers in as we can't have a small British Company getting all that £60m ... Invest £20m but at a 20% stake you still 'own' £4m of that, plus £12m of the government funding plus 20% of existing Skylon assets so it's a no cost investment for BAE really ... If I was being cynical I'd suggest if you wanted to give £12m to BAE there wouldn't be a much cleaner way ... and there's always the possibility that Skylon will work and could be commercialised.
Is the cooling loop a full loss system (which would massively improve flight efficiency due to weight loss) or it the helium recompressed for tank storage and reliquification? Presumably it cannot be efficiently cooled and reliquified in flight in a true closed loop cooling system as you couldn't dissipate the heat ...?
meh,, its would be cheaper and alot faster to to make electro magnetic pulse propulstion drive, and have a 1Mw perpetual generator on, so you can super charge your thrusters in space and accelerate at near light speed, and have a single pulse every 100 light years
shoot off like 2 rubbish magnets on earth retracting when you push them up to one another and you let go of 1 of them
all the hardware has already been made, except a 1Mw generator, all the sensors and computer software are already in use on maglev trains
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