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The UK spaceplane aiming to go to a new level

Jonathan Amos | 08:14 UK time, Thursday, 30 July 2009

If there is one British space project that has the capacity to inspire at the moment then surely it is Skylon.

This is the spaceplane concept [4.28Mb PDF] that would take off from a conventional aircraft runway, carry over 12 tonnes to orbit and then return to land on the same runway.

SkylonIt promises a step change in our approach to space. The spaceship would be truly reusable and this, crucially, would dramatically reduce the cost of access to orbit.

The concept is being driven by Reaction Engines Limited (REL) in Culham, Oxfordshire.

Skylon's key enabling technology is its Sabre propulsion system.

It is part jet engine, part rocket engine. It burns hydrogen and oxygen to provide thrust - but in the lower atmosphere, this oxygen is taken from the atmosphere.

This is extremely tricky. At high speeds, the air entering the Sabre intakes would be 1,000 degrees, and it has to be cooled prior to being compressed and burnt with the hydrogen.

Reaction Engines' breakthrough is a remarkable heat exchanger pre-cooler.

Arrays of extremely fine piping plunge the hot intake gases to minus 130C in just 1/100th of a second. Pause and think about that for a moment. That's astonishing.

Since starting this blog, a number of readers have asked "where are we on Skylon?"

Well, at last week's inauguration of the European Space Agency's (Esa) new UK technical centre, I caught up with REL's managing director, Alan Bond.

You can listen to our conversation below. Excuse the clanking in the background; the event organisers were clearing up around us.

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As you'll hear, REL has money from several backers, including from Esa, to essentially prove the key technologies, to get them to a stage of readiness where big decisions can then be taken on how to push the Skylon project to the next level.

Europe already has an excellent expendable rocket in the Ariane 5. After its troublesome entry into service in the late 90s, it has become a market leader.

Speak to satellite operators, as I do regularly, and they laud Ariane's performance - but they do grumble at the cost. The "brochure price", as they say, is in the order of 160m euros.

Of course, nothing lasts forever and the talk has now begun as to what might replace it. What will be the Ariane 6?

The French prime minister Francois Fillon initiated this discussion in May [pdf], calling on those European states involved in the Ariane project to start the process of thinking about the next generation.

The idea is to formulate a plan for an Ariane 6 that can be presented to the next big Esa ministerial in 2011. This is the meeting which will decide Europe's space policies and budget through to the middle of the next decade.

Would the UK government dare to put Skylon in that trade space in some form?

This is what Alan Bond wants to see happen... but, as he says, the technology has to be shown to be ready.

"We're working very had to get the necessary demonstrations together to show that technology is there. Our engines rely on very advanced heat exchanges - equivalent to extraordinarily powerful car radiators, in effect - and we're a long way down the route now of demonstrating that."


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  • 1. At 09:18am on 30 Jul 2009, indigo-gb wrote:

    How does Skylon differ from HOTOL? Is it the same thing on a different scale?

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  • 2. At 09:19am on 30 Jul 2009, Hugh Morley wrote:

    Interesting to see that Skylon is coming along nicely, spaceplanes are definitely the way forward for orbital travel.

    Hopefully the guys at RE can get the demonstrator tech ready for the 2011 council, because having several of these craft all over Europe would slash /kg prices immensely. Adopting Skylon would put the ESA so far ahead of any other agency's payload launch efforts that I find it hard to believe that companies would want to use anyone but the ESA for orbital flights, assuming it all works.

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  • 3. At 11:56am on 30 Jul 2009, Talis2001 wrote:

    Skylon is a fantastic idea, and I think it deserves more recognition and definite support from the government (or any government in fact), unfortunately from what I've read recently I can't see that any more major progress has been made since it was presented to myself and other undergraduates back at University in Southampton in about 1993. I do hope Reaction Engines manage to get the funding they deserve for this innovative idea eventually, and it doesn't just end up on the shelf and undeveloped like HOTOL was.

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  • 4. At 12:25pm on 30 Jul 2009, danzi42 wrote:

    This could boost us aka the ESA, right to the top of the league table!
    If this system takes shape well we will be the cheapest for anyone to launch a satellite with! With the Space shuttles out of use in a few weeks, and NASA wont have its next fleet of space craft and the constellation project up and running for years, this is the time for space agencys to catch up.
    Also, if the 12 week talks go well, Britian will have its own spacce agency, wouldnt Skylon be a great starting point for them! A totally reusble space plan capable of putting sattelites in orbit, and it would be British built, so our first space fareing craft would be built by us and not bought of the Russians!

    Skylon is a remarkable step forward, and once again although we don't have our own space agency, we are still leading in space development in a lot of areas!

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  • 5. At 12:42pm on 30 Jul 2009, David Hazel wrote:

    The Skylon concept has been around since the mid-80s, when I used to work in the Space industry. The Thatcher government of the time wasn't into spending any money it could argue its way out of spending, however, and I've seen no evidence that successive UK governments have any less of a head-in-sand attitude towards commercial space exploitation.

    I hope it does happen, but I have no faith at all in this country's willingness to invest in futuristic technology.

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  • 6. At 4:34pm on 30 Jul 2009, Freeman wrote:

    Very impressive. I hope this is the cue to get Britain back in the space business. For too long we have sat on the sidelines.

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  • 7. At 4:41pm on 30 Jul 2009, curiousman wrote:

    Yes, similar to HOTOL but the cooling of the intake air is amazing. Seem to remember Concorde variable air-intake took a little bit of design thought too. We Brits could really do with a few iconic engineering feats - this could be it, if our government has just a little vision. Pity they, unlike the Fench govt, do not understand engineering and don't wish to give us a project to instill national pride. (If it were a US project imagine the hype/publicity!) If it ever gets off the ground I don't expect it will be launched in UK, but Woomera in Oz is still very much operational - try there. Hey, think of a more whizzo name than Skylon (it was used in the 1951 Festival of Britain for that pointy thing which never took off!) - c'mon, excite people - you've gotta sell it!!

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  • 8. At 7:04pm on 30 Jul 2009, Simonm wrote:

    Perhaps Alan Bond should look at the fund raising concept defined by the 'Bring the Vulcan to the Air'. A few major sponsors but lots of individuals contributing. I, and I know so many others would pay money to see this thing work. I can't afford to go to space myself, but I can afford to help Britain go into space! Where do I send my cheque?

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  • 9. At 7:59pm on 30 Jul 2009, Andrew2070 wrote:

    Skylon is named after the 1950s exhibit. Reaction Engines plan to design it then bring in aerospace industry to build it.

    Regarding HOTOL, as I understand the situation, the last Tory government chartered BAe and Rolls-Royce to design a low cost reusable space vehicle in response to a European initiative. But then, and for reasons I've never found out, Ken Clarke or possibly Michael Heseltine (the former who scoffed at manned space flight and the latter who spoke in favour of abandoning Black Arrow in the early 70s) classified the designs. As a result Alan Bond (a Black Arrow participant) established his own company. Please correct me if this is inaccurate.

    Surely it is within the power of the department that inherited the responsibiliies for the department of the day (presumably DTI through Business Innovation and Skills) to declassify these documents or at the very least provide the assistance it failed to in the mid-1980s.

    Many here will know Britain is the only country to have developed an indigenous launch capability and then abandon it. What is hard to grasp is how the same country can't recognise the potential of a reusable space plane with conventional take-off capability for tourism, for satellite launch or for the RAF.

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  • 10. At 10:21pm on 30 Jul 2009, Jonathan Amos wrote:

    indigo-gb: Yes, Skylon is a derivation of Hotol, but with quite a few changes in the engine and airframe departments. Hotol had a really quite fundamental problem in its configuration which meant it had to fight a tendency to want to lift its nose as it flew up through the atmosphere. Skylon fixes that flaw, in part by moving the engines from the rear of the vehicle to the wingtips.

    David Hazel et al: On the subject of cost. If you listen to the interview, you will hear Alan Bond and I discuss the probable development cost of Skylon. Alan likens this to a project on the scale of the Channel Tunnel. In other words, about £8-10bn. Frances desire to raise the issue of Ariane 6 tells you that the nation wishes, once again, to lead the venture. France believes its historic role in developing European launchers compels it to take the initiative. You can be sure France will turn up at Esa ministerial meetings with the hundreds of millions of euros that will be needed to cement that leadership. Would a UK government be prepared to invest similar sums to get Skylon going? I read some scepticism above but remember the hundred of millions of euros UK taxpayers put into the Airbus A380 and will likely invest in the early development of the A350. Also, if the economics of Skylon are as convincing as Alan Bond believes they are, then perhaps this is a project the City will want to take on.

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  • 11. At 10:49pm on 30 Jul 2009, Dave0550 wrote:

    As a space mad teenager in the 60s I remember Blue Streak,ELDO,Black Arrow and the optimism that although Britain was late starting it could play a part in space. BAC then thought up the shuttle concept of MUSTARD, and later HOTOL came on the scene.
    All of these ideas and plans came to nothing because of people who lacked vision and ambition. Usually politicians.
    I believe we are at a potential turning point and I think we all need to lean on our "representatives" to do something bold for the first time in ages. Perhaps the UK could use this to revitalise a neglected high tech sector, and the SABRE engine looks like a good place to start.
    I have been watching Skylon develop for some years and if it works, then we could virtually corner the market.
    From a less nationalistic point of view we could start again on the path begun in the 1960s - a vibrant space programme.

    I urge everyone to badger their MP!( When they are back off their holidays)

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  • 12. At 11:17pm on 30 Jul 2009, centrillium wrote:

    "Also, if the economics of Skylon are as convincing as Alan Bond believes they are, then perhaps this is a project the City will want to take on."

    It would surprise me enormously.

    A single stage to orbit reusable launch vehicle (SSTO RLV), using a novel aeroengine concept, with novel structures, represents an enormous technical risk. Previous attempts to develop RLVs (X-33/Venturestar comes to mind) have run into weight growth that has taken the projected payload below zero; the programmes have tended to die when (in Elon Musk's words) it became clear that success was not a possible outcome.

    In addition to the technical risks there are the commercial risks arising from the absence of a proven market. The payloads to justify a high flight rate, which any RLV will need to recoup its unavoidably enormous development cost, do not exist. Less than 10 Ariane 5s are launched every year; the total world market for launches is around 50 payloads a year. In other words, if your RLV takes 10b to develop you can buy more than 6 years of Ariane Vs for the same money... so if your marginal costs are zero, you capture as many launches as any existing vehicle ever has, and charge as much as an Ariane for each flight, it still takes more than 6 years to recoup your sunk costs. And that's allowing nothing for the interest!

    Of course its true that a mature infrastructure based on SSTO RLVs with high flight rates should offer per-launch or per-kg-to-orbit costs a hundred or more times lower than can be achieved with expendables. Who knows what kinds of space activities might become economically feasible in such a scenario. But as an investment its very risky and certainly will not offer quick returns. Bankers are the last people who would want to go near such a project.

    It will take bold, visionary, and committed government support to realise such a programme, with tolerance for delays and overruns when unexpected technical hurdles inevitably appear. The Apollo programme only worked because James Webb asked for and got 100% margins in his budget estimates - if the engineers said it would cost $2b, he asked for $4b, and usually spent it. In addition, there's a very real possibility that the programme could fail regardless.

    I think it would be worth the risk - the prize may be new technologies, whole new industries, and the beginning of a migration into space.

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  • 13. At 04:37am on 31 Jul 2009, freddawlanen wrote:

    Sadly, it'll never happen as there is no way any British government will invest more than a few £m into space research/exploration.

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  • 14. At 10:38am on 31 Jul 2009, exuberanthistoryman wrote:

    Sadly I do not think this would ever get the public or private funding needed. Both government and business in Britain do not seem to understand high-tech unless it is pharmaceuticals or defence related. Notice the reluctance to seriously regulate the banks and you can see where politicians and business see our countries future - in services (many of a distinctly low-tech kind) and in finance. Both are relatively easy for our country to deal with in terms of its poor performance in educating our young and the desire not to invest for the long term. I think the best thing to do would be to offer this technology and the ideas behind it for sale to a country or consortium of countries that may do something with them.

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  • 15. At 6:39pm on 31 Jul 2009, ppc_freeporter wrote:

    I have the suggestion to use current boeing type airplane as stage 2 of the rocket to reach the first 30km on kerosene and the last 30km on the rocket. After the vessel above the boeing will quit for space and moon mission.
    I have many other desing for spaceship, but the main ideas of M. Amos is good with sufficiently creative peoples.
    The Ares project is very similar to Saturn IV and wonder why they are such similar to Boeing project.

    Thank All


    p.s: Please for further talking join my ASP (Alian space program)on facebook to make liberal discussion about space travelling and leaving.

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  • 16. At 7:37pm on 31 Jul 2009, Superfluousshopper wrote:

    Hello Jonathon, any chance you can get your buddies at panorama to do a programme on Britians lost talent,lack of vision and failure to grasp opportunities in space technologies. With the possible creation of a british space agency it would be topical, and they could include lots of images of poor destitute british scientists going cap in hand to France, a national disgrace!! Talking about national disgraces why is the beeb repeating 'have i got news for you'it's meant to be a 'topical' news quiz, get Ian and Paul back in the studio with guest mp Lord Drayson.

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  • 17. At 7:49pm on 31 Jul 2009, SONICBOOMER wrote:

    If I recall, HOTOL required a major re-design due to fears of centre of gravity issues, what remained was a much stubbier looking machine, for possible launch from an aircraft like the AN-225.

    Is this why Bond embarked on Skylon?

    I too am impressed by the concept, above was mentioned the variable intakes from Concorde, as someone who was involved in the maintenance of the lovely lady in the last 7 years of it's service, I can confirm that the intake system was indeed a most impressive feature.
    So much so, in the mid 70's, the USSR even asked if BAC could adapt it for the failing TU-144 SST, since this was one of many areas the TU-144 fell short technically of being a viable service airliner.
    (Ever wondered why it never saw proper service, no PR coup of flying it internationally?)
    BAC refused, the Cold War was on, the system could be used in a potential supersonic bomber, BAC's Guided Weapons Division designed and built the Concorde intake system, (parts even had 'GW' prefixes).

    I think if Skylon stands a chance, it would have to be as an international programme.
    It's the way of the world now, from airliners and major military jets.
    Since the 1960's the UK Treasury has only ever approved multi national major aerospace projects, while economics drove this, they turned out to be right.
    More limited selling UK only jets, civil and military, would have killed the industry here.

    Many, (including former workmates who started at BAC), mourned the loss of TSR.2, but over 900 Tornados were built, we'd have been lucky to have seen 50 TSR.2's.
    Same with airliners, Airbus has kept the UK in the game. Might not be to the extent some would like, but the alternative was eventually nothing.
    The Eurofighter Typhoon is essentially a British Aerospace design, with German input that moved the intakes from the side to under the fuselage for post stall agility. A UK national one would have been axed long ago.

    The same with space, we have the excellent work of SSTL, but the big ticket items with major UK involvement have been pan European.
    France as stated, will want to push an Ariane 6, for sound reasons given their record here.
    But remember, Ariane 5 originally was seen as also a potential launcher for the Hermes spaceplane.
    A vanity, reinvent the wheel on a smaller (too small?) scale, project.
    Ken Clarke, as minister at the time, was right to berate it. As in 'even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day' sense.

    But Bond and his Skylon could be, with the right support, a trump card here.
    Not to replace an Ariane 6, but to supplement it.
    Since like it's forebear, this new conventional rocket could also if man rated, launch a proposed ESA capsule, based on the ATV, a rather more practical idea than Hermes was.

    I too find it hard to take that we are the only nation to have abandoned a launch vehicle, driven home recently on a trip to the London Science Museum.
    But, in 1971 the market for the sorts of small satellites Black Arrow could launch, was not really there, not commercially.
    Imagine what SSTL and a modernised Black Arrow could give us though!
    Now, Black Arrow as an upper stage of a Blue Streak based first stage, that would have been ideal.
    Of course, we went down (seemingly disproving my earlier point!) down the ELDO route, the European upper stages were the problem.
    But nothing that time and development could not fix, as we saw with Ariane.

    However, back then there were so many other technology projects wanting funding, when you read the excellent 'White Heat' by Dominic Sandbrook, a general history of the UK 1963-70, you get to see the awful economic times they were, we were frankly lucky to maintain the sort of technology base we did all things considered.

    France is different, they do stick it out.
    As we saw with the subject of my working days until 6 years ago.
    But, they pay a price, in the mid 1970's they managed to build an airliner that sold even LESS than Concorde.
    The Dassault Mercure, a short hauler, 11 built, all operated for 20 years by state internal carrier Air Inter!

    But I hope Alan Bond's genius can be used to bear fruit on a project, that if successful, could be a potent symbol, a commercial success and a great inspiration for science and engineering in the UK.
    Let's face it, the 30 year doctrine of 'financial services can pay our way', now lies in ruins.
    Taking much else of value with it.
    Time for a change.

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  • 18. At 8:43pm on 31 Jul 2009, Andrew2070 wrote:

    In the 1970s the Royal Aicraft Establishment and Royal Ordnance used to contract the aerospace industry to build launchers and sounding rockets. Both were national assets in which the government still has a "golden share" arrangement I believe through Qinetiq and BAe respectively. In the past the government via the BNSC could have supported a variety of designs which both organisations proposed but hasn't provided the money.

    Now the issue is finding ways to keep the economy as dynamic as any country on earth, it is to be hoped that the recognition that the space sector is growing at >9% year on year for the past decade will lead them to see the importance of absolutely supporting this sector in leading edge ways.

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  • 19. At 10:58am on 02 Aug 2009, icewombat wrote:

    So we have a leading edge project, which will put us inj the fore front of world space research. We are closing down university Physics, Chemistry and Engineering courses ate the rate of 10 or so a year.

    Come on Brown put your FULL backing into this project and its protential benefit to the UK. What is a few million of investment in science over the Billions you are spending on dumming down science and maths at schools!

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  • 20. At 1:15pm on 02 Aug 2009, ironmars wrote:

    I agree with many of the comments made above. This project appears technically feasible and the new technologies have potential applications in more than just space launchers. It can repay its initial investment, transfer space transportation to the private sector and inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers (weather satellites and the odd 'best of the best' astronaut really don't cut it).

    The UK government as a whole appears to be behind the curve in recognising the importance of cheap access to space in terms of both its economic and life sustaining potential.

    Ventures such as Space Exploration Technologies, Bigelow Aerospace and Virgin Galactic have attracted respectable amounts of private funding with an Abu Dhabi investment fund being the latest entrant. This money comes from sources that understand business, finance and analysis of market opportunities.

    The UK can't afford to fall behind on space propulsion technologies and miss out on the benefits of private investment and the skills that will be generated. We need a new Rolls Royce for space and it needs to happen soon. The current European model will struggle to compete with the drive of American entrepreneurs and the UK's engineering skill base is narrowing. The UK should place itself ahead of the curve.

    From the interview we hear that Reaction Engines' technology needs to be shown to have reached the right level of "readiness level". The program to do this costs £6m over two- three years. For such a small amount of money, the government should put in the further investment required in order to accelarate the process. If all the boxes are ticked then we are on to a winner and can get on with building international support now rather than later. If if doesn't work the skills acquired in materials, propulsion and thermodynamics will migrate to the benefit of other areas. I'm confident that the technology has profitable applications, hence the £4m+ of private investment that Reaction Engines have received so far.

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  • 21. At 6:40pm on 02 Aug 2009, OldWolf63 wrote:

    I was looking at the Skylon Image and it struck me how much it resembled the Space plane from the BBC serise Star Cops... And it is nice to see the UK is back in the space race.....and finally has an ESA Tech centre.

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  • 22. At 9:05pm on 02 Aug 2009, mreason wrote:

    Lockheed Skunk works, failed to create a functional Single stage to orbit vehicle not that long ago, why do we a country with the absolute minimum possible experience in space flight think we can do better.

    A less ambitious first step would be more sensible.

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  • 23. At 10:36pm on 02 Aug 2009, Mike Mullen wrote:

    "Lockheed Skunk works, failed to create a functional Single stage to orbit vehicle not that long ago, why do we a country with the absolute minimum possible experience in space flight think we can do better.

    A less ambitious first step would be more sensible"

    Thing is they failed largely because the US government wouldn't spend the money to make it work, not the same as not being able to make it work. At the moment RE are workign on proving the technology, if it does progress it to a vehicle it will be in association with either agencies like the ESA or aerospace companies like BAE. They are unlikely to jump straight from proving the technology to building Skylon, there are bound to be intermediate vehicles, perhaps modifying an existing launcher.

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  • 24. At 2:31pm on 03 Aug 2009, curiousman wrote:

    As has been mentioned above Skylon might just fly if it became a collaborative project between, shall we say the UK, Australia and China. We have the innovative design, China has the cash (plenty of US dollars) and the Australians have a launch site.
    I worked on the Skylark sounding rocket which was designed for the International Geophysical Year in 1957 and continued to be launched until the year 2000. The design was reliable and straightforward - some 300 were launched from several countries over almost half a century. If Skylon could become an economical 'workhorse' like Skylark it would be just the iconic project the UK needs to boost UK science and UK engineering into the future.

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  • 25. At 4:22pm on 03 Aug 2009, chadanuk wrote:

    I think the UK government really needs to get behind projects like this.

    It seems like a thoroughly well researched project (almost 20yrs +?). If the cooling system works on the SABRE engines then it could well end up being one of the cheapest ways to get into space in the next 10-20yrs. But why wait that long when proper funding would (I imagine) speed up its development and we could have something that would definitely inspire a new generation of engineers and provide income by transporting stuff to/from space.

    The ~1m Euros put in by ESA earlier this year is pittance compared to the estimated cost of development. Lets put some actual funding in.. also in response to #7 simonandlesley I agree. Maybe some kind of "Donate" button on the RE site where if enough people put £10 in funding could easily be supplemented by those interested/intrigued in the concept.

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  • 26. At 6:32pm on 04 Aug 2009, Mike Mullen wrote:

    As far as long term funding goes their best bet might be a link up with Scaled Composites and Richard Branson with a view to building Skylon as 'Spaceship Three'. RE's propulsion combined with Bert Rutan's innovative approach to vehicle design would be fascinating.

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  • 27. At 11:17pm on 11 Aug 2009, JohnnyParanoia wrote:

    If RE's demonstrators can prove the technology, the Govt will step in immediately, classify all the documents, and then kill the project.

    Because Washington will tell them to do so, in order to preserve the technological 'lead' of the USA. And the British Govt will meekly comply, as it always has done since the 1940's.

    This is what happened to the TSR-2 (potential competitor to the American F-111, and at a much more advanced stage than the F-111 project was when it was killed).

    This is what happened to our own space rocketry programme 'Black Arrow'. Black Arrow was a potential competitor to NASA, and was killed by HMG just before its first launch (an event that was a complete success at the the very first time of asking, in marked contrast to the very embarrassing disasters suffered in public by NASA in previous years and Ariane later on) and only a couple of years before the market for launching commercial satellites came in to being.
    The Black Arrow team was ordered to destroy all their drawings and data - so the UK was never even able to offer this proven technology (cheaper than NASA's) to the nascent ESA's Ariane programme.

    I expect that the classified HOTOL documentation was given to the Americans, and looked at by the Lockheed team that worked on the 'Aurora' spy plane that replaced the SR-71.
    This is, after all, what happened to all of Britain's research on transonic flight at the end of WW2 (programmes killed and the data given to the Americans), which gave Bell the crucial information (about the need for a high tailplane) that enabled *them* to build the first supersonic aircraft for the USA, rather than any British aircraft firm being allowed to get there first.

    By Government standards, a programme like Skylon would cost relatively little to develop, and would give 'UK plc' a commanding lead in an emerging high-tech industry, with the potential to be very profitable in the future.
    But such an event would upset the Americans, so it won't ever be allowed to come to fruition here.

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  • 28. At 7:33pm on 13 Aug 2009, SONICBOOMER wrote:

    27, but what happened to those 50 RAF F-111K's?
    Two were half built, never flew, the UK cancelled them for the same reason as TSR.2, cost.
    Then the RAF got the aircraft they had long rejected, the Buccaneer, and fell in love with it!
    So presumably pressure from Washington was short lived?
    Had the RAF brought Buccaneers years before, they could have upgraded the avionics (the kit designed for TSR.2?), probably this would have generated exports too.

    While it is the case that the US did grab British technology after WW2, to help pay off our huge debt, however the UK government did respond at times, witness the British atomic programme after a US Senator created a law barring any foreign input.
    He would later admit that he had no idea of the extent of wartime UK involvement in the classified Manhattan Project, had he known, there would have been an exemption.
    It was more a case of myopia and the general insularity of Washington at times.

    Some think one reason we embarked on the far more difficult H-Bomb effort in 1954, was to pressure the US into resuming co-operation, which the advent of NATO since made more logical.
    US experts were invited to the Christmas Island tests in 1958, seeing the futility of freezing out the British, co-operation was resumed.

    Later, they did not foist the later Posiden submarine missile on the the UK, when (later proved unfounded) fears of Soviet ABM developments looked to make the small British Polaris force less of a deterrent.
    Instead, the controversial UK Chevaline upgrade went ahead.

    It seems to me that the ending of the UK satellite launcher had little to do with the US, it was a purely UK move informed by the awful economic times.
    We could have carried on with being part of a European effort, or gone it alone still.
    The only interaction with other nations near was with Europe, who were disappointed at our leaving ELDO.
    By the late 60's NASA and the USAF had a range of launchers, sure some failed, but this was 10 years after the infamous 'Kaputnik' failures in the wake of the early Soviet success.

    As I mentioned before, the aircraft I was involved with until it's retirement, often attracted comment about 'how the Yanks tried to kill it'.
    But they did not, at least the Federal Government did not, there was a long campaign by locals in New York to prevent it flying there, but the Federal Government allowed it into Washington from May 1976, not long after it entered service. The Feds ultimately overrode the New York objections too.
    The only SST the US ever killed off was their own, after huge cost overruns, long delays due to the need for a total redesign and from various pressure groups.

    As for 'Aurora'.
    All these years and where is it?
    To properly use the F-117 Stealth, they had to go public with it in 1988, they never tried to conceal the much bigger B-2.
    I note that NASA are about to resume tests of an unmanned scaled hypersonic demonstrator, dropped from a B-52, with at best, a 300 second flight time.
    But wasn't Aurora supposed to do this and much more with ease for maybe 20 years?

    The SR-71 was retired due to the vast costs of running it, the end of the Cold War, they did miss it for the 1991 Gulf War, it made a brief return in the late 1990's.
    But there is just no evidence for an operational Aurora.
    I don't doubt that probably an advanced unmanned hypersonic vehicle was planned, but they could not make the X-30 hypersonic demonstrator work either, at least not without a huge cost for an uncertain project.

    The UK government is more secretive than most democracies, across the huge range of areas, I see the classification of Bond's HOTOL engine as part of that.
    As noted before, HOTOL needed a major redesign after potential centre of gravity problems emerged, a much less attractive version was the short lived result.

    Which is why Bond embarked on Skylon.

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  • 29. At 9:50pm on 17 Aug 2009, ghostofsichuan wrote:

    As the world searches for alternative fuels this becomes the chicken and egg question. Does one seek this commitment to develop the technology or does one wait and see if new fuels will drive the technology? Always interesting questions when looking at long term development projects. Moving on at least provides the chance that technologies can also drive the process. The world is ready to move beyond the current problems of fossil fuels so the next creator of viable energy will be in the drivers seat and reap the financial benefits. Long term financing of such projects in todays financial markets makes one give pause as that system is not trustworthy and it may be diffcult to be near an important point in the research and have the money disappear. .

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  • 30. At 6:33pm on 23 Sep 2009, bertwindon wrote:

    Absolutely Super. Never mind arithametic, or reading and writing, let's be part of "The Space bizniss". Maybe if we all drove "space cars" it would help global warming by using less fuel ? I don't really understand all this stuff.

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