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Skylon spaceplane approaches decision time

Jonathan Amos | 09:40 UK time, Tuesday, 21 September 2010

It is one of those projects that has the potential to put the "great" back into Britain.

Artist's impression of Skylon

Each Skylon vehicle is expected to have an operational life of some 200 flights

The Skylon spaceplane concept has quietly been gaining momentum ever since the UK government withdrew its support from a previous incarnation of the vehicle, known as Hotol, at the back end of the 1980s.

The flaws that hobbled that earlier venture have now been fixed, its designers believe; and Skylon will very soon be at a state of technical readiness where investors have to decide whether to put their full weight behind the endeavour.

For those not familiar with Skylon or who have only a vague recollection of Hotol, let me reprise briefly what is on the table.

The autonomous, unmanned Skylon is being developed by Reaction Engines, a small company formed out of the Hotol experience.

Their 84m-long, single-stage-to-orbit spaceplane would take off from a runway, deploy its 15-tonne payload in low-Earth orbit and then return to land at the same runway.

That 15-tonne payload could include a retrievable upper-stage capable of pushing the biggest telecommunications satellites into geostationary transfer orbit some 36,000km above the planet.

The concept is very different from today's expendable rockets which dump stages as they ascend to orbit; or indeed the space shuttle, which as an entire system is only partially re-usable.

Skylon's disruptive technology is its Sabre propulsion unit. 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 straight from the atmosphere. This is extremely tricky.

Pre-cooler unit

The pre-cooler is made from a network of very fine pipes that rapidly extract the heat in the air

At high speeds, the air entering the Sabre intakes would be 1,000C, but to burn efficiently with the hydrogen it must be cooled prior to being compressed.

The "breakthrough" is a remarkable pre-cooler heat-exchanger. Arrays of extremely fine piping plunge the hot intake gases to about -140C in just milliseconds.

Sabre allows Skylon to carry less propellant, enabling the spaceplane to make that single leap to orbit with a payload that is much larger, relative to the vehicle's overall launch mass, than is currently the norm.

This, along with its airliner-like reusability, should lower the cost of access to space - dramatically. By an order of magnitude, maybe more.

If it can be made to work, it is a "game-changer".

The UK Space Agency has called a workshop this week to review the project and its prospects.

Is it really technically possible or have some showstoppers been overlooked? How much would it cost to develop (probably $9-12bn) and how would the UK make it happen - with European partners or with a wider international consortium?

First things first, the critical technology has to be proven.

A major event will occur next summer when a full version of the pre-cooler heat-exchanger will be demonstrated on an experimental rig at Culham in Oxfordshire.

A Viper engine will suck air through the pre-cooler, whereupon it will dive instantly to sub-zero temperatures. Ordinarily, the moisture in the air would be expected to freeze out rapidly, covering the network of fine piping in a blanket of frost that dislocates the whole system.

Except, Reaction Engines say they have developed an anti-frost solution that will allow the heat exchangers to run and run.

The vehicle would weigh a little over 300 tonnes, fuel included, as it went down the runway

So, assuming that all works, where does Skylon go next?

The project is envisaged as a commercial enterprise, one where investors could be expected to see a full return on the development costs and make a handsome profit.

The independent assessment recently carried out by the London Economics consultancy certainly makes Skylon look attractive, even using sceptical treasury appraisal methods.

Artist's impression of a Skylon take-off

Skylon would operate like a transport plane

It suggests that in a mature market, if you were to produce about 90 vehicles, unit costs could come down to about $650m per spaceplane, each of which would be designed to fly perhaps 200 missions.

However, as we all know, this is a game of uncertainties, and the space business is a strange beast where normal economics don't always apply.

National prestige demands certain satellites fly on particular rockets whatever the cost.

And trade barriers erected in the name of "national security" will prevent some satellite operators from using the cheapest rockets whatever their wishes.

Even if a British government does not itself invest heavily in Skylon, it will absolutely have to take a front-seat role in helping to smooth the political and regulatory barriers that will inevitably confront Skylon's introduction.

Alan Bond is the MD at Reaction Engines. He has doggedly pursued this project through its up and downs, and remains confident the project can be brought to fruition by the end of this decade. He told me this week:


"What I would really like to think is that a year from now there is a project that is growing - a British project predominantly, probably pulling in large parts of European industry, a little bit of government involvement and a large part of private finance. And that would, I think, give Europe and Britain a really strong hold on these technologies in the world. There are other people out there watching what we're doing - the Americans, the Russians, the Japanese. If we don't do it, sooner or later one of them will; and then we will have lost out again on something that could help transform the British economy."


You can hear my extended interview with Alan Bond by clicking on the audio below.

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I have also been chatting with Charlotte Duke from London Economics about the assessment her consultancy completed on Skylon.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

David Parker from the UK Space Agency explains its role in the Skylon review process.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

And because I know there are a great many Skylon fans out there, I had a brief conversation also with Mark Hempsell at Reaction Engines. He has been working on the latest iteration of the Skylon concept, known as the D1. This is a rescaling of the current C1 concept and is being designed to cope with the expected increase in mass of the next generation of large telecommunications satellites.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.


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  • 1. At 11:16am on 21 Sep 2010, dgreenyer wrote:

    This is exactly the kind of innovation and vision Britain needs. The only way Britain will recover from this economic nightmare is if we invest in world-class projects such as this. Could the project be adapted to provide transportation as in the original hotol vision, a replacement for concorde?

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  • 2. At 11:52am on 21 Sep 2010, bob_bournemouth wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 3. At 11:52am on 21 Sep 2010, ChrisBrack wrote:

    This is exactly the sort of project that the British government should be looking to help out and invest in. Yes there is always going to be an element of risk, but this sort of project is exactly what we need to stop ourselves falling even further behind as a global economy and power.
    I really hope that Cameron, Clegg and friends have the vision to invest here and help make Britain great again.

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  • 4. At 12:28pm on 21 Sep 2010, blogtastic wrote:

    It is a gamble, of that there is no doubt. If it passes the tests though, i see why we should not invest as a nation. Rather this than trident in my opinion.

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  • 5. At 12:33pm on 21 Sep 2010, The Realist wrote:


    Fantastic piece! If the government had any sense they would realise that this is one thing they should continue to back, it was after all the Conservatives who started the part funding of this to see out it's feasibility.

    We can only hope that the Government actually see this report, because if they want to know how to make immediate money from this... well, there are thousands of rogue satalites that could do with being collected from space. We have already had one collision, this machine can bring alot of them back to or even nudge them into a violent return so they burn up in the atmosphere. All companies should be forced to pay for this service which TWO or more Skylons can provide.

    ONE Skylon to go up and wait, another to carry fuel to it so it can operate in space.

    This is as big as a revolution as Concorde, but there is one big difference, this one looks to be economically sound. It is time for Britain, or Europe... we should not be adverse to even more EU funding for this, to take a leading step.

    So my message to Cameron is as so, stop gambling on our future and start investing in it instead. There are many, many applications this machine can be put to... and the spin off applications will be mind boggling.

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  • 6. At 12:41pm on 21 Sep 2010, tim burnett wrote:

    Britain could have had a working re-usable space vehicle in the early sixties (M.U.S.T.A.R.D it was called) that, on the design board at least, was superior to NASA's existing Space Shuttle. Then, in the 1980's, Britain could have had a working re-usable space vehicle in the guise of HOTOL. Neither of these were taken up by the Governments of their times. UKSA was set up in recognition of the fact that the space industry is growing (even in the face of recession). Let's hope today's Government sees the sense of making the UK the world leader in space transport. Something like SKYLON could change the world...

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  • 7. At 12:42pm on 21 Sep 2010, newsteada wrote:

    Just a note for those asking about long-range transport check out the projects on Reactions Engines website under LAPCAT. This describes a project undertaken for the EU/ESA a few years ago that addresses just such a development of the Skylon design. The interesting thing here for my money is that RE were approached for this project - they are recognised for their expertise.

    I hope, for one, that Skylon does come to be but looking at the way the UK is when we consider technology these days I can't help being pessimistic.

    Here's hoping!

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  • 8. At 12:49pm on 21 Sep 2010, kit wrote:

    Yes this could work wonders for the UK, but no doubt won't as we can't afford it. At least that will be the gov response. Neatly side stepping future potential and developments. And what about use by our own military? Launching our own satellites and maybe even use them to deliver the tridents, why spend money on new subs, when these could be based all over the uk and abroad. spead out locations and ability to use straight bits of motorway to take off from in time of war, would make them less vulnerable than the subs. A developed version could link us to australia and new britain (sorry zealand) in less than an hour. Forget the costa del sol, Christchurch here I come!

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  • 9. At 12:56pm on 21 Sep 2010, Charles wrote:

    I do hope that we can make this happen. It is expensive, and of-course there are important 'everyday' issues that need funding; however, I firmly believe that innovation such as this is better for our country in the long run. Mundane problems will always exist, but chances like this will not.

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  • 10. At 1:10pm on 21 Sep 2010, Andrew wrote:

    Thanks for the article Jonathan.

    What regulatory barriers specifically are you referring to? Is anybody clear exactly what logistics need to be undertaken to get this or other launch vehicles to fly?

    Virgin Galactic are on the Space Leadership Council so presumably will be able to communicate directly to government.

    Do these include the following?
    - export barriers to US technology for Virgin (a British company)
    - safety regulation and legislation
    - agreements with land owners e.g MOD

    Do UKSA have the authority to clear these barrriers? If not, then we could be having this discussion in 5 years when as Alan Bond says somebody else will already have done it.

    Has the RAF any interest in this as they stated they had in "small launchers" a few years ago? Does Liam Fox know about this? Vince Cable? Is David Willets informed?

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  • 11. At 1:28pm on 21 Sep 2010, Ben Essada wrote:

    One thing that’s missed here is the profits to be had from ultra fast ground to ground package delivery. It may be too risky to carry passengers, and mail goes by wire anyway but if you could get 15 tonnes of packages London to any other airport in, say, an hour business would invest big money.

    That would justify the development of vehicles which could go on to be used as space planes. Analogous to early airline development. They were too uncomfortable for most passengers, high speed mail went by telegraph but the speed advantage, over the railways, gave them a premium when transporting goods.

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  • 12. At 1:35pm on 21 Sep 2010, Phil Wells wrote:

    NASA are looking for an alternative method for shuttling to the ISS, with Obama and likely any other future President not happy at the concept of returning to expensive use-once Apollo-style rockets, so surely the smartest thing here would be for UKSA to work with NASA to create a joint-funded operation. Lets face it, the Americans would be far more comfortable working with a spacecraft they helped design with us, the British, as aposed to being reliant on Russians.

    Making this a joint UK/USA venture then makes the question of Government funding less of a requirement and more of a "would be nice" situation.

    Recent history has shown that, at least technologicaly, when we work with the US to produce something we have tended to produce arguably the most technologicaly advanced piece of equipment out there.

    The Harrier is one very prime example of this; a UK-designed aircraft with US financial backing via NATO's MWDP which first flew in 1960 and variants of the same craft are still flying 50 years later, taking over 45 years for a complete replacement to have even become reliable enough to begin phasing the Harrier out.

    And to that reliable replacement, the F-35 Lightening II, who do you think designed it? Yep, you guessed it, joint venture pridominantly between the UK and US and, like its predocessor, it is now technologicaly the most advanced plane in the skies, the only plane capable of stealth and VTOL, and will likely stay that way for a further 40-50 years.

    NASA, even now with its massively reduced budget, has lots of money. Britain has lots of technical know-how. Seems like an obvious marriage to me.

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  • 13. At 2:06pm on 21 Sep 2010, Kev wrote:

    The biggest problem with the space industry is getting there. No one has yet to beat the early rockets that Wernher von Braun came up with back in the 40s and 50s. They took us to the moon, but at a huge cost (money wise).

    The shuttle was meant to fix that but failed miserably, it costs as much to build a shuttle as it did to ready an existing one for space travel. They were also extremely unreliable, which is why the US government had to reluctantly kill it, leaving them without any manned capability.

    I've been a huge fan of Hotol but thought it had been killed off by Nasa back in the 80s. I'm so pleased to hear it's not only still going but thriving, even without any help from the government. The US government feeds billions into NASA and a lot of that went into the Shuttle which was a total dead end, as NASA is now going back to one shot rockets.

    The industry has been crying out for a game changer for some time, and i believe this is it.

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  • 14. At 2:23pm on 21 Sep 2010, G Carr wrote:

    Government backing for this project would inspire a generation and put the Great back into Britain. Ideally leading an ESA project, but going it alone if necassary, we could set an example to the world, scrap our 'off the shelf nukes' and put the money into something that'll benefit everyone.

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  • 15. At 2:41pm on 21 Sep 2010, Jonathan Amos wrote:

    @Andrew. Insurance is a major issue and the question of the size of the liability to an operator. If a Skylon were to go out of control and hit a city, the financial payout could run to billions. Who pays and how much (governments may carry some of the burden above a certain level) will affect the size of launch premiums. Skylons will also need to be certified. Do you certify them as planes or rockets, or both? Are Skylons UAVs in which case that opens up a whole set of issues related to controlled airspace, secure communications, etc. The list is a long one. The UK's Outer Space Act is being reviewed currently.
    @Kit. The military would certainly want a Skylon to deliver its satellites to orbit and to send packages quickly from point to point. But as a weapons delivery system, Skylon is considered a very poor option. It would be pretty easy to track.

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  • 16. At 2:50pm on 21 Sep 2010, icewombat wrote:

    Hopefully this goverment will want a UK launch ability,

    In the first few years of the last goverment we were offered a very cheap (15million) a launch 350kg capability using the last 10 remaining air worthy valcons and decomnisioned air launch balistic missiles from the USA.

    Missed opertunity that now means that we can no longer afford the 250-350million a pop to launch our battle field satalites to support our troops!

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  • 17. At 3:23pm on 21 Sep 2010, Swifty wrote:

    Where do I sign up to invest? I put £5 into the Vulcan restoration project, and am the proud owner of a rivet flying around somewhere. I'd like to fund a rivet, or something similar in this project.

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  • 18. At 5:22pm on 21 Sep 2010, RevJohn wrote:

    Once again, the Dream of Stars is kicked into a sort of zombie-like imitation of life and trotted around a bit, before the mean, nasty Guys-In-Suits (who wouldn't recognise the Big Picture if you shot it at them from a Vernian moon-cannon) kill it stone dead.
    Skylon will never happen.
    Were a tiny country like UKland to design, prototype, build and fly Skylon, from paper to scrapping, it might be possible. However, the Suits will never try that. They don't have the imagination. They don't have the vision. They don't have the faith in the future. And they don't suffer from the Dream.
    So what we would get were we to get any version of a Skylon-like Frankensteinian monster, would be an abortive, genetically modified horror like the Shuttle. A USAlien monster where every Senator and congress-critter, and every mayor and mayoral-want-to-be, would have a slice of the manufacturing pie. Thus producing a bloated, horrific, inefficient and dangerous joke of a machine, instead of something lovely.
    Skylon could start the human exploration of the galaxy. Put two Skylons near each other, put a man-rated pod between them, you have a man-rated launch platform. The pods could be highly aerodynamic "flying saucer" shapes that would fit together. Make some pods telescoping tubes, for connectors and ring units, and you can launch a "Space Station" wheel in a dozen or so lifts.
    Launch bits of a Mars-mission. Bits of a City and Farm into high orbit, bits of London-on-Luna. Bits of ... but you get the idea.
    Send mining kits to the nearer Earth-orbit-crossing falling rocks, the Near Earth Asteroids, and you need never have another mine on this planet. Greenpeace and WWF should not only love that idea, they should actively be pumping money into it. (They never will. They haven't the wit to see that getting Man offworld would save the little bunnies.)
    Loft your own wheel-shaped "World" into high orbit, and preserve your Faith forever in places no one can touch or tamper with it. It is then not so much of a leap of faith to *leave* Earth orbit and jump , albeit slowly, into the cometary zones. These are the places where allegiance to a single stellar body is rather moot. It does not matter *which* cometary zone you get your minerals, food and fuel from. When Sol's gets crowded, just edge, slowly, into the nearby ones.
    From Skylon to the galaxies. It could be done. It would be inevitable. The only difficulty is the first leap of the imagination.
    Of course, we would need hundreds of lifters, thousands of pods. We would need to manufacture them like Fords.
    We could. UKland could.
    Building on Earth is something humans have been doing for a while. Look at any City and you will see numerous examples of the work people can manage, when working in comfortable gravity and atmosphere.
    And launching facilities are not an issue. We have St. Helena. Building a large runway there would give lots of room for stray and broken lifters to drop safely out of sight. Creating runways out of Ocean isn't difficult. It has been done before.
    Ah, The Dream of Stars. It rears its beautiful head over the ramparts every so often and the Guys-In-Suits kill it stone dead, with their pathetic little-picture myopia.
    We could do it. UKland, England, could do it.
    All sixty million of us know we never will.
    The best we could get is another, lesser version of the bankrupt idea of "Shuttle".
    The Dream of Stars wasn't born in 1957, but it was killed well before the first lunar landing. It will never fly again.
    There will be no Skylon.
    Dreams cost too much.

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  • 19. At 5:25pm on 21 Sep 2010, kevin wrote:

    I really hope this fly`s one day.I hope the british goverment in my life time signs up to an international vision of all nations going to the moon together.I hope we are part of the exploration of the moons of jupitar and saturn.Sadly there are to many countries who look at nuclear weapons to put their money into.If this space plane could be built and seen to fly,then we can show there is another way for us and a better place than the A-bomb to invest our time and energy.Space is not a waste,it is everything.

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  • 20. At 6:31pm on 21 Sep 2010, gaetano marano wrote:


    frankly, it's really incredible that someone still believes in the SSTO and, particularly, in this Flash-Gordon-like version!

    the "reaction engines" seems a genial solution for a reusable vehicle, but, unfortunately, they aren't a so smart idea

    the time and money to develop, build and test them could be very high, while, their advantages on the SSTO efficiency, should be very modest

    that, since, the atmospheric oxygen can be used only in the first 5% of the max altitude and (maybe) less than 1% of the max acceleration and speed, that vehicle must reach

    also, the full design of the vehicles looks flawed... just a Flash-Gordon-like vehicle... but without a Flash Gordon able to drive it to Space... :)


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  • 21. At 7:05pm on 21 Sep 2010, Nick Oakley wrote:

    What we need is another good ol' Cold-War-initiated space race to get the politicians wetting their pants about: nothing like a patriotic war to boost sales of your future autobiography.
    War on Terror doesn't work though - gotta be War on Terra Firma. Not much in the way of Communism nowadays, so maybe somewhere Middle East?
    Failing that, how about offering tax incentives to banks or corporations that are willing to fund the founding of off-world tax havens?

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  • 22. At 7:29pm on 21 Sep 2010, Simonm wrote:

    I think the £9 - £12 billion would be far better invested in Skylon than bailing out banks so the bankers can pay themselves £4.5billion.

    But that puts the whole thing (cost wise) into context, 2 years of bankers bonuses buy us GB Ltd on its own, no international help etc.. The Future!

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  • 23. At 7:30pm on 21 Sep 2010, Simonm wrote:

    And while I'm pro-replacing Trident, perhaps Skylon would be a better investment in our future?

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  • 24. At 8:05pm on 21 Sep 2010, Andrew wrote:

    RevJohn - on what basis is the UK "tiny"? It's world research output rankings, its economy, its population, its coastline length, it being one of the top 20 biggest islands in the world, its population density, its culture, its history, its international achievements, its military, its technological achievements, its 2nd highest number of Nobel prize winners, its defence spending, its international links with the Commonwealth?


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  • 25. At 8:15pm on 21 Sep 2010, Kiteman wrote:

    Space plane? Yay!

    Unmanned? Boo!

    When is the UK going to get off its backside and push for *proper* spaceflight? The US Mars Mission is a joke - with the right guidance, we could beat them by years.

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  • 26. At 10:06pm on 21 Sep 2010, Jonathan Amos wrote:

    @Kiteman. There is no reason why one couldn't put a manned module inside the Skylon payload bay. That has been considered.

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  • 27. At 10:56pm on 21 Sep 2010, mytheater wrote:

    @Kiteman. Considered to some depth:

    It is unpiloted. It can be manned.

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  • 28. At 09:50am on 22 Sep 2010, delmn8ed wrote:

    It will never fly, we are trying to go from baby steps in the 70’s to a dead sprint, it’s too late for the UK.

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  • 29. At 10:40am on 22 Sep 2010, Jim Sadler wrote:

    Britain has led many of the world changing revolutions in its history UKSA should agree that this should be the next one.

    It would be good to see the British referred to as a nation of great engineers again as they were in industrial times instead of as a nation of bankers.

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  • 30. At 12:49pm on 22 Sep 2010, ChrisC wrote:

    It might be wise to emphasise the spin offs from this technology more than the obvious 'it gives us a spaceplane'.
    For example will those heat exchangers have other alternatives? Could the engines form the basis of ultra fast/long range cruise missiles that would be cheaper than ICBM's?

    There's the job generation angle.

    How can this be spun so that it doesn't lead to rediculous headlines? It even looks a bit like the Thrust SSC, and that was held up as great british engineering.
    As the above comment notes about being seen as a nation of engineers or of bankers. This could be a poster child for a new engineering revolution in this country.

    So overal de-emphasise the experimental/science side and up the patriotic engineering revolutionary side.

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  • 31. At 2:51pm on 22 Sep 2010, Jonathan Amos wrote:

    @ChrisC: The heat exchangers at the moment are very expensive to produce, but if you could bring that cost down, they could find their way into ordinary jet engines, delivering very significant fuel efficiencies.

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  • 32. At 10:32pm on 22 Sep 2010, dgreenyer wrote:

    I think Swifty has the right idea. I'm not well off but I would be prepared to fund a rivet or two to get the plane flying.

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  • 33. At 00:04am on 23 Sep 2010, BLAZAR wrote:

    I hope NASA and ESA partner to make Skylon and Lapcat projects a reality. American and European interests will be well served with both these projects . Manned mission to Mars using this platform as a space truck to Earth orbit a big plus in my book .

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  • 34. At 1:37pm on 23 Sep 2010, Ian Dowson wrote:

    Licence the heat exchanger technology to RR or GE use these funds to finance Skylon along the road a bit more. Funding this is a much better use of Govt money than the dole, bankers or trident, perhaps this is Tridents replacement?

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  • 35. At 5:45pm on 23 Sep 2010, daryan wrote:

    “....have some showstoppers been overlooked?”.....umm? how about Tsiolkovsky’s rocket equation? That says that for a vehicle to achieve orbit between 88% to 92% of its take off mass will be fuel, the remaining 12-8% has to account for everything else, engines, fuel tanks, wings, heat shield, recovery system (parachutes or landing gears) and of course the payload. Meeting this with any SSTO is a fairly tall order. For example the Ariane 5's 2nd stage has a mass fraction of around 8%...but that assumes it carries no payload (its 22 ton LEO payload raises this to 17%, of course the 1st stage boosters give it that little bit extra DV to fall within our 12-8% window), has no recovery system and is designed for single use only.

    The Skylon team’s plan is to “cheat” slightly by substituting air for Lox for part of the flight. Problem is that they can only do this up to a speed of around mach 6, or about 20% of the required delta-V required for LEO, the remaining 80% has to be achieved the old fashioned way. This would still probably result in a mass fraction of at best 20%(80% fuel), so that 20% must account for everything that isn’t fuel, and on any winged vehicle that’s a pretty tall order. Even if we assume we can achieve a mass fraction of 18%, for a 15 ton payload (the remaining 2%) this would represent a takeoff weight of 750 tons (double the weight of a 747)! Not impossible, but a tall order it has to be said.

    In order to “cheat” the rocket equation the performance level of the Skylon engines needs to be very high, in one of their papers the designers claim a thrust/weigh ratio of at least 14. By comparison the T/W ratio of a 747’s engines are around 6.5, concorde’s 5.4, black bird 5.2 & scramjets around 2. You will notice how the T/W worsens as the aircraft goes faster & for good reason - it needs to be more heat resistant flying at higher speeds, necessitating heavier engines. To break this trend will require substantial innovation & I’m not fully convinced that this is possible, why? Because a back of an envelope calc tells me the Sabre engines will need to suck heat out the air at the rate of between 100-300 MJ/s – equivalent to a small power station cooling tower! Not impossible, but very challenging.

    Of course standard rocket engines produce T/W’s of 30-100, but then we don’t get to use air from the atmosphere & are back to trying to cram everything into our 12-8% envelope. While I’d love for the Skylon team to prove me wrong, & of course the one way we’re never going to find out is if we give up trying, but my engineering instincts tell me the project has some pretty huge hurdles to overcome. And my criticisms are pretty mild compared to what this guy say’s below:

    The Cold Equations Of Spaceflight

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  • 36. At 6:00pm on 23 Sep 2010, rjcain wrote:

    It seems hard to find any solid analysis of just how much money can be made out of space (excluding the production of the rockets themeselves); communications satelites, obviously, plus the a hew hundred or so scientifically funded projects, i dare say...

    i'm a big fan of space tech, but until they discover Gold on the moon, I fear Mr Cable (and Mr Obama) will say '...too expensive' or '...not of high enough standard') - perhaps.

    At the end of the day its payload customers who'll foot the bill and ultimately make the investment decisions.

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  • 37. At 7:17pm on 23 Sep 2010, rjcain wrote:

    ps. having just asked the question, I've stumbled upon on a small clutch of relevant economic analysis and forcasts for the space sector, nationaly and internationally:

    from the UK (gov) here, - feb 2010

    from the American (gov) here - [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator] - july 2010

    from the Italians here - - march 2010 (in Italian)

    i havent turfed much up from the French, Chinese, Russians or other big players yet - but I' sure their plans are out there, not too far away.

    from first glance, the 'space vehicle' sector itself seems to be doomed to shrinking margins in a suprisingly flat market over the next 15 years or so, albeit with significant social and technological benefits as 'spin off' . maybe its just my reading...

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  • 38. At 7:44pm on 23 Sep 2010, rjcain wrote:

    sorry, a better link to that US report here -

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  • 39. At 11:58pm on 23 Sep 2010, RevJohn wrote:

    Re # 24. At 8:05pm on 21 Sep 2010, Andrew :
    UKland *is* tiny. 6 milliard people, 60 million on UKland's islands. That's one in a hundred.
    We're not as tiny as the Isle of Man, but the rest of the EU outweighs us five to one or better.
    That said, UKland *could* surge past the rest of the world. It might not be with a HOTOL variation. It could just be a slight improvement to the Saturn, but it could be done.
    When we sold off the last lot of the radio spectrum to the mobile phone companies, we could have used that as seed money for a lot of innovations. We didn't, we frittered it away.
    When we were pumping a hundred milliard pounds into the Banks, we could have taken a step back, taken a very deep breath and just let a few of them fail while we used *that* as seed money. Of course, we all know how that turned out.
    Our governments are almost universally composed of people from the legal profession and the finance sector. The few from anywhere else are swamped, crushed, browbeaten into agreeing with the little-picture myopia of the moment. Getting anything innovative started is unlikely.
    It could be done.
    My previous post, above, was simplistic, idealistic, overly-simplified and more like a drug-induced SF novel than anything a politician would give credence to, but it was a skeleton of an idea of how we *could* do it.
    The initial cost is, of course, horrendous, but this is an immensely rich country and putting money into tech would inevitably make us richer.
    No? How much did laser research cost? How much has Sony made from the machines that read from and write to those silvery discs? Putting money into research *always* pays off.
    It is a pity our politicians can't understand that.
    Smaller slice of a larger pie.
    If we all get richer, they can *cut* taxes and *still* spend more and pay back the debts faster. If UKland gets richer, UKland can have fewer, leaner taxes and *still* spend more. And a smaller tax burden for individuals and corporations encourages money *in*, and encourages *more* innovation and growth.
    The key ingredient to beating recessions is spending money in the right places.
    Not Banks. Banks don't produce, innovate, improve or create, they only siphon off a slice of every transaction, making everything cost more. Banks are a *drag* on economies. By design they have to be. Reducing the burden of banking, reducing the costs, killing off a few big Banks and breaking up the others to make them less of a cabalistic near-monopoly, would have been a good thing. Unfortunately, people from the finance sector can't agree with that. They see Banks as important.
    They are not.
    They are just slightly more useful than barter.
    Had we used the money we wasted on Banks and the bonuses of bankers - had we used it as starter funds - we could have paid for a good few Saturns all on our own.
    Or several dozen Skylon-like things.
    The various profitable uses of which would have earned us more than they cost.
    The entire Industrial Revolution has taught us two things:
    Putting money into research *always* pays off and anyone making a better communicator or mode of transport will make money.
    Mobile phones are not the latest word in communications. Nor are airliners the last word in transport. Making the next Big Thing, whatever it is, will make money.
    Banks can never make money, nor much of anything else save misery.
    High Tech makes countries rich.
    Any tech. For trying to build a Skylon or HOTOL would create industries we can't imagine.
    Something like the next "apps market". Or those spinning discs that evolved from laser tech. Or the vast markets that came from research into transistors. CERN, research into sub-atomic physics, as useless a pursuit as anyone could imagine, gave us Yahoo, Google and You-Tube, simply because a couple of researchers wanted to share documents more easily.
    Research *always* pays off. Ask Google if CERN was worth having around.
    Anything that helps people and goods move faster will make money. Anything that helps people talk to each other or see further or stave off boredom will make money.
    And flooding money into research will always make money.
    It's a shame our Government can only see one tool for getting us out of the mess they created. One blunt tool, and it's the wrong tool.
    They are trying to solder a circuit board with a saw.
    Or read a CDrom with a hammer.
    Little minds, with little-world ideas and little-picture vision.
    And not a taste of the Dream.

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  • 40. At 10:57am on 24 Sep 2010, Craigboy wrote:

    I've read many articles like this but if they think they're going to be building ninety of these ships anytime soon than it makes you have to question whether or not they're planning on building any at all.

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  • 41. At 11:05am on 24 Sep 2010, Craigboy wrote:

    @Kiteman - Well good luck with that.

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  • 42. At 12:37pm on 24 Sep 2010, jr4412 wrote:

    daryan #35.

    good post.

    "The Cold Equations Of Spaceflight.."

    will be ignored, as boys will be boys. sigh..

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  • 43. At 1:14pm on 24 Sep 2010, Andrew Whitwell wrote:

    Lend the USA a couple of Skylons and they can lend us few Tridents.

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  • 44. At 2:34pm on 24 Sep 2010, TheyCallMeTheWonderer wrote:

    @35 daryan

    I'm far from being an expert, but as I understand it, Tsiolkovsky’s rocket equation explains vehicles who's lift comes exclusively from rocket thrust. This will not apply to a spaceplane which will achieve much of its lift from conventional wings.

    After all, a passenger jet has much less than 88% of takeoff mass made up from fuel.

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  • 45. At 8:30pm on 24 Sep 2010, Paul T Horgan wrote:

    I think that the government/investment community will be bonkers not to consider putting money into this.

    After all, it has more chance of profitability than investing in securities backed by sub-prime mortgages, or bailing out a dodgy bank.

    It would be an easy way for the investment community in the UK to redeem themselves in the public eye.

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  • 46. At 8:35pm on 24 Sep 2010, Simonm wrote:

    Perhaps in considering new ground breaking technology, we must always bear in mind Clarke's three laws.

    When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is probably wrong.

    The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

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  • 47. At 08:40am on 25 Sep 2010, delmn8ed wrote:

    As I've said before single stage to orbit has been atemted before by Lockheed Skunk works. If they cant get it to fly then we definatly wont.
    I understand the entusasem for the project, those of us that have an interest in space flight, have only the UK's comercial achevements to follow. Very rarly do we do blue sky projects.
    We should atemt some thing less radical, I feel we will only get one shot at this.

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  • 48. At 11:43am on 25 Sep 2010, Captain_S wrote:

    It is interesting that the company concerned has not produced anything notable (imho) since their formation in 1989.
    Is this another QUANGO ? -
    They make a fortune, obviously enough to pay their rather large staff, but seem to have actually produced, in over 20 years, nada, nothing !,
    Purely theories. ?

    I think the ideas are great, but who on earth would invest BILLIONS into a company that is purely a think tank with no tangible output. ?

    Models, Pictures, mock ups by and for universities, a few machines ?
    I see it as a company with terrific potential that has been living on EU and other grants for 20 plus years and have produced, well, errr. absolutely NOTHING... ?

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  • 49. At 11:59am on 25 Sep 2010, Captain_S wrote:

    @39 REVJ

    I dont think it is fair to say that ANY money pumped into new tech is good my friend.
    It certainly CAN lead to great things.... Concorde, TSR2, HOTOL etc etc...
    What happened to those ?

    We (in the UK) are the typical inventors, with a flair for giving out the info for someone else to develop and make money.. yes, that is fair.. however, in this case... hmmmmmmm.
    Fantastic ideas and great research, but....

    In the governtment cutbacks, one could have an argument that companies like this are mere 'apparant' money 'absorbers', not producers.. until, of course, they do something tangible. are the potential targets.. for more than 20 years they have lived off the fat.. or so it seems, and given nothing back.. much info on 'projects', however, none on past projects to completion.

    Interesting, and thought provoking.. we are not yet into Star Trek..
    Their team skill mix would 'tend' to indicate a focus - albeit initially - on fusion tech - hance the reaction engines - they are light years away me thinks.. but WE the tax payers, keep them in their large comfortable homes playing research and loving every minute, with prospects of Jam Tomorrow...
    Have they any vacancies ? :)

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  • 50. At 02:38am on 26 Sep 2010, Rich wrote:


    The X-33 was cancelled before it even got a chance to fly due to an abundance of technical problems, one of the most serious being the design of the liquid hydrogen fuel tank. Despite protests from the engineers they were required to use a complex composite honeycomb design in order to 'prove technology' rather than a simpler more standard tank design.

    Also the X-33 relied only on rocket motors and needed aerospike engines in order to reach orbit. This is a significantly different approach from what reaction engines is suggesting.

    Generally from what I have seen REL's design is the only sane system proposed for single stage to orbit. The only really new piece of technology involved is the heat sink which they have stated they will test before requesting funding.



    I would think one of the most detailed and refined plans for drastically cutting the price and safety for access to space is worthwhile myself. The pay off from such would be astronomical, in financial as well as purely human terms. Not to mention the amount of potential spin off technologies as mentioned earlier in the comments. Even if the chance of it working were low, the risk would be worth it.

    In your second post I am not sure if you are joking or not when you say they are working on fusion technologies. I can only assume you must be because otherwise it would show a mind boggling degree of ignorance on the subject you are commenting on.


    I really do hope this technology gets developed, we can no longer compete with other countries very much on mass production, resource wealth or agriculture. High technology is pretty much all we have left and I cannot think of a more exciting subject than this to invest in.

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  • 51. At 05:28am on 26 Sep 2010, Elukka wrote:

    It would be a bad idea for NASA to throw their weight behind Skylon because there'd be good odds it'd become Shuttle #2: an overpriced system that holds back the entire agency for the next decade or four. It's an agency without a means of human space access! The last thing they should do is embark on another ambitious high-risk project as they're only just getting out of the last one that didn't really work.
    Get a cheap, reliable means of space access first, then consider Revolutionizing All Space Travel. At least you'll have a plan B if it doesn't work.

    Now, as to the Skylon itself... this 'much higher' payload fraction is about a percent higher compared to the ancient Proton, and less than a percent compared to the Falcon 9. Now, it's still an improvement, and not an entirely insignificant one when the payload fraction of any system is just a few percents, but is all this technology, all of which will incur maintenance costs - the complicated engines, the heat shielding, landing gear, wings, etc. - really worth a 0.8% increase in payload fraction?

    With a more traditional multistage system you can get a payload fraction close to what is advertised for the Skylon with a simple kerosene-burning rocket. It can be made reusable, too, indeed it should be easier as the first stage, ie. most of the craft will have a much more benign reentry.
    Less heat shielding, no wings or landing gear, much simpler engines, much easier maintenance and construction.
    So, what can the Skylon still do better than this, besides possibly have a 0.8% higher payload fraction?

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  • 52. At 6:59pm on 26 Sep 2010, Hugh Morley wrote:

    Surely this is exactly the time for Skylon? Government-enabled and supported private enterprise that puts Britain not only on the map in a big way, but provides an incredible boost to our and the wider European economy. I do not approve of the coalition's "science policy" (read: immense cock-up) one jot, but this is just what they need to support to put it back on the map.

    Will Willetts and Cable put some weight behind this, I wonder?

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  • 53. At 07:39am on 27 Sep 2010, Captain_S wrote:

    I still say the difficulty is that to invest BILLIONS into this would take a huge gamble that we are not in a fiscal position to take, hence it is not likely to happen, to put it mildy.
    Imagine you were looking for a new employer, or trying to sell a 'product' ?

    Your CV reads something like...

    Been in same employment for 21 years, fantastic qualifications on paper, working on some highly innovative projects.
    Achievements ?, err, none listed.
    Tangible evidence ? , err, None really, but some great theories...
    Income ?, mostly all from non finished projects and research that did not come to fruition by EU government sources.
    What were those projects ?, well, err, we dont want to advertise them due to failure to be viable.

    That is exaclty how their CV, website portrays things. They would need to seriously look at PR. as a first step.

    But, its really too late for that, it is mostly the company itself that has 'missed out on oppertunities' not the investors.

    Sorry to be negative, I think some of the ideas are terrific, however, good the company may be at securing grants and research funding from mainly the tax payer, and however promising their 'ideas' may appear, they have failed to sell their business model above that level.
    It is more in what they dont say than what they do say.

    If I was recruiting, I would not employ someone with such a CV with a total blank as to acheivements.
    In this competetive world, this is one of THE worst cases of PR I have ever seen. READ their website.
    If REL reads this, then that's the first thing you should do is look at your PR and fill in the gaps as to ACTUAL acheivements. Their ability to deliver is questionable, at the very least.

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  • 54. At 08:09am on 27 Sep 2010, Andrew wrote:

    RichZap - because of these apparent limitations it seems to make sense for the UK to gain access to space to fully exploit it.

    Jonathan - have you read about Starchaser 4?

    Why do they need to go to the US if they've been launching here? If it's facilities they need (and they've used RAF Spadeadam in the past) has UKSA looked into constructing them?

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  • 55. At 10:49am on 27 Sep 2010, Andrew wrote:

    Captain S- REL have secured hundreds of thousands from BNSC, a million from ESA (I think) and millions from private capital according to their contribution to the Science and Technology Committee space agency review. They must be doing something right.

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  • 56. At 11:14am on 27 Sep 2010, Fellows80 wrote:

    I worked in the USA as an engineer during the late 50s through the sixties and saw the immense technical fallout into industry from the space program. This technology gave birth to hundreds of commercial products and a whole new spectrum of industries. It has been the lesson of the past that although fundamental research goes on in the background at universities and commercial research centres, it takes a war or a space program before the drive to turn research in to money making products. I was born 1929 the date of the last market fiasco and the job recovery took about two or three years to get anywheres and then it was on the back of government funded construction projects such as roads and dams, but it tool world war 11 before there was full employment. Here in England we could hardly consider a World war 111 so maybe the government should look at high speed trains and transport projects for the short term and SKYLON for longterm foot in technology. All British governments have been notoriously weak in recognising the needs of technological progress their record in my lifetime. In the 1950s they cancelled Black Night and Blue streak launch vehicles which left us without a ballistic missile capability and lead to the adoption of Trident, then they cancelled the very advanced TSR2 airplane and signed a contract for the USA F111 whicj was a fiiasco at the time. The cancellation of the TSR2 literally spelled out the end for England as an aircraft manufacturer. They then set up an environment in which the opportunity for hostile takeovers of industry and the export of manufacturing overseas was the normal. They failed to ensure we maintained a viable car manufacturing company under British ownership. They have sold off all our utiliities and water supply to foreign interests and it makes one wonder how long before they sell off the crown jewels. As someone who grew up during world 11 I started believing what the government was saying, with hind sight I now realise that no government, in the UK at anyrate has ever delivered what was expected of them. I grew up seeing the two countries we had been at war against ( Germany and Japan) rebuild their economies and standard of living into what is now seen as two of the most stable and succesfull in the modern world. I hark back to the comment the Catholic Cardinal made in Italy about 'England seeming like a third world country; if this government does not 'pull its finger out' and take action, then I fear they will make his words fact.

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  • 57. At 12:25pm on 27 Sep 2010, Treefrog wrote:

    One thing the UK is known for is "the inventor in the shed at the bottom of the garden." Okay, so the shed is a large industrial/office complex and the garden is Culham science park but the analogy is apt.

    Having a continuity of management and development from the original HOTOL concept and knowing the flaws that beset the original is, I feel, the most likely approach to succeed with this technology.

    Using the denser lower atmosphere to provide a) oxygen, and b) lift, neatly sidesteps (partially) the drag and weight issues that act against the more usual vertical launch rockets, with the consequent efficiency gains translating into a greater payload ratio. And let's not forget the fact that the only consumables used with this design are the fuel and oxidiser - and possibly tyres - which are the cheapest 'parts' to replace. This also means a shorter turnaround time before the vehicle is ready for relaunch. Just as the shipping container revolutionised sea cargo transport, so can the Skylon cargo container revolutionise space cargo transport.
    And also on the environmental side - far less energy and materials used per launch with emissions being almost solely water vapour. Most of which stays in the atmosphere and is therefore available for reuse.

    An excellent approach to the problem of making space cheaply accessible IMHO - thinking your way through a problem rather than throwing increasing amounts of £££ and horsepower at it.

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  • 58. At 3:06pm on 27 Sep 2010, knowles2 wrote:

    Well if anyone can make it work then it would be us British.
    It about the time UK lead a other revolution anyway.

    I through hopefully all the government will have to contribute to the project is loans guaranteeds an clearing the regulation hurdles an there influence to bring in the world satellites customers.

    But if this is successful it could in a single step enable the UK to dominate the space industry for decades to come especially in the private sector but it could easily end up as the Comet did.

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  • 59. At 5:36pm on 27 Sep 2010, Captain_S wrote:

    Nice ideas guys, and I DO share your interests in making things work for the uk..
    however, the grants from the EU, UK Included, have funded this company so far, and I STILL SAY (AND PROVE ME WRONG ? ) that their tangible acheivements are NADA !.
    BRILLIANT IDEAS !, but that dont cut the mustard, unfortunately.

    You CAN sell thought processes to QUANGOS, which is what they have done, for TWENTY ONE YEARS !!!!!, at some point, you need to deliver...

    don't you find it interesting that they hit the headlines just after the top 400 in the US (Billionaires) was released, sorry, poor show...

    face it, it is PIE IN THE SKY.. I am NOT saying it is not feasible, maybe it is, but step back, look at the track record, and realise they have made a fortune and live comfortable lives around QUANGO grants for 21 years.. !!!!


    and through their own piss poor marketing... sorry, but reality is harsh.

    Buzz Lightyear has a long way to go before anyone would buy into this, the quangos were tasked with spending money SOMEWHERE,, now maybe that tap has stopped dripping.

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  • 60. At 5:43pm on 27 Sep 2010, Captain_S wrote:

    Good points, however, the Comet put an end, effectively, to the UK aircraft industry, but made great inroads to the UK Aircraft Accident Investigations Industry.. It brought them to the forefront.
    Yes, it flew many years after as the Shackleton etc... and was superb, but not in the passenger role.
    they changed the name, like windscale to another... but it was still superb, but NOT in commercial aviation.. I dont think it is a good example of how to lead.. ??? it was a total failure in the role it was designed for.

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  • 61. At 5:54pm on 27 Sep 2010, Captain_S wrote:

    Hmmmmmm, or was it the nimrod ??? :)

    Same arguments apply lol

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  • 62. At 9:27pm on 28 Sep 2010, daryan wrote:

    @44 TheyCallMeTheWonderer:

    “ I understand it, Tsiolkovsky’s rocket equation explains vehicles who's lift comes exclusively from rocket thrust. This will not apply to a spaceplane which will achieve much of its lift from conventional wings....”

    As I pointed out Skylon can “cheat” the rocket equation only up to mach 6 (or mach 5.5 according to the Reaction Engines website) from this point on its above the atmosphere and the normal rules (i.e the rocket equation) apply as far as accelerating the rest of the way to orbital velocity, around mach 26+. Staying in the atmosphere for longer would not be advised as the engine weight will increase to prohibitively high levels due to the additional levels of thermal protection it will need and the increased size of the heat exchanger. Also as I pointed out engines tend to get heavier and have lower T/W ratio’s the higher the top speed becomes. While the reduced level of oxidiser consumption means the mass fractions are now a bit better (probably within a window of 0.18-0.22 by my reckoning) squeezing a workable spacecraft (fuel tanks, heat shield, avionics, landing gear, reaction gases, etc.) and payload into that frame would sill be quite a challenge. The wings, airbreathing engines, heating exchanger and any cooling medium, not to mention the fuel used to get to mach 6 in the first place all have to be charged against this mass fraction too.

    “….a passenger jet has a mass fraction much less than 88%...”

    Hardly a fair comparison! a passenger jet flies at under mach 0.8 at an optimal height of around 30,000ft while skylon has to hit mach 6 in the atmosphere and then 30 times faster than an Airliner (wt rockets) to reach LEO.

    A better comparison would be the SR-71 Blackbird (mach 3.5 top speed, 1/7th the speed of skylon) which has a mass fraction of 35-60% fuel at take off (depending on mission length) or the X-15 (mach 6.5 top’s, but gets carried up to 40,000ft by a B-52) 46-58% fuel at take off. While better than 88%, both can only achieve a small fraction of the performance levels required by Skylon, while still ending up with a reliable cost effective launch vehicle. While I would hope they can pull it off, we have to acknowledge that many have tried (Shuttle, X-33, DC-X, NASP, Hyper/Soar, T-2000, etc.) and failed before.

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  • 63. At 06:53am on 02 Oct 2010, RevJohn wrote:

    @62 Daryan wrote:
    "While I would hope they can pull it off, we have to acknowledge that many have tried (Shuttle, X-33, DC-X, NASP, Hyper/Soar, T-2000, etc.) and failed before."

    It actually does not *matter* if they fail. That is the essential difference between finance/politics and science/technology that the politicians and financiers don't seem to grasp, but that every researcher accepts as a basic working axiom. It is completely irrelevant whether the Skylon ever flies or not. What matters is whether UKLand has the drive and vision to build a Hong Kong style floating airport at St. Helena to test these technologies and what spin-offs drop out of the research efforts.
    No one went into research in coherent light with the intention of creating DVDs or fibre-optic cabling.
    No one thought of remote control zappers when trying to force integrated circuits to work in smaller and smaller volumes.
    And while wrist-phones were always a dream of the nerds, no SF writer considered that guys in bedrooms would become millionaires writing applications for them.
    Futurologists never get the future correct, they always go for the "power too cheap to meter" and flying cars and houses, but they rarely consider the industries supplying access to your local weather forecast or traffic conditions on your hand-held computer (the thing that once was merely a portable telephone).
    A bunch of youths from a computer club in California revolutionised the entire concept of computers and helped put them in every pocket, in every camera, in networks in every home.
    Okay, so we still don't have entirely wired houses like "Sarah" in "A Town Called Eureka" or "Hal" in "2001: A Space Odyssey", and robotic assistants with personalities, like "Data" from "Star Trek" or Dr. Asimov's characters, are still well beyond our reach, but even relatively modest households can boast technology today that has the computing power of what were industrial supercomputers a couple of decades ago.
    Sure, some projects cost us lots and were abject failures. Some failed because they were truly impossible, some because they were beyond the technology of the time but may have succeeded with the powers we now have and many (like Shuttle, DC-X, Blue Streak, Concorde) because they were simply cut by myopic little minds with no grasp of The Dream.
    Politicians and financiers are little minds working in a little picture with no idea of the vastness of the riches that potentially could be theirs if they could just broaden their horizons a little, just take a glimpse at the Big Picture. Or even just learn from recent History.
    As Fellows80 @56 said most eloquently: we've had at least a very long lifetime of basic research always paying off. This is true even of projects that were eventually cancelled, like Apollo and Concorde.
    If Skylon fails, UKland would still have a massive infrastructure of works done and nice, new airports and launchpads built. It would also have all the "phasors", "memsistors" and "polycorders"and whatever other novel technologies and trivia the massive projects incidentally lead to. Games, more flexible communications media and better transport of goods and people *always* make money.
    Our leaders are too frightened of failure to even try. They are little-picture financiers and lawyers living in a binary world where failure is absolute and has no redeeming features. They think in short-terms and small provinces. They don't seem to understand that a massively failed Skylon could still lead to cheaper Saturns.
    Or that the failure of wrist-comms would leading to Apple selling iPhones. And Jenny in her bedroom writing a physics App that sells millions of downloads and makes her a cottage industry.
    Failure *IS* an option, and it should be embraced.

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  • 64. At 1:33pm on 05 Nov 2010, annodomini2 wrote:

    "A better comparison would be the SR-71 Blackbird (mach 3.5 top speed, 1/7th the speed of skylon) which has a mass fraction of 35-60% fuel at take off (depending on mission length) or the X-15 (mach 6.5 top’s, but gets carried up to 40,000ft by a B-52) 46-58% fuel at take off. While better than 88%, both can only achieve a small fraction of the performance levels required by Skylon, while still ending up with a reliable cost effective launch vehicle. While I would hope they can pull it off, we have to acknowledge that many have tried (Shuttle, X-33, DC-X, NASP, Hyper/Soar, T-2000, etc.) and failed before."

    You forgot to include that the blackbird had to refuel after take off, the construction was such that when on the ground and 'cold' it leaks like a sieve. at Mach3 plus the body heats up expands and closes the gaps.

    But the fuel leakage is so bad it has to be refuelled after take off.

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  • 65. At 12:57pm on 06 Nov 2010, AHGood wrote:

    ok look at it this way..the cancellation of the 2nd carrier and Trident would require the government to provide equivalent work to the contractors.

    Here is an equivalent project: Support structures need building.
    System development and manufacture should go to replacing work lost on the old school projects too.

    But back to reality our esteemed government is in a cycle of masochistic fiscalism so don't hold your breath.

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