Farnborough 2016: ESA inks deal with Reaction Engines for more airbreathing rocket engine development while XCOR wants Glasgow Prestwick as its UK spaceport

by | Jul 13, 2016 | ESA, NASA, Technology | 0 comments

Space has traditionally been very much an “also ran” at the Farnborough International Air Show which remains mainly civil and military aviation orientated. This year was no different, with just a small part of Hall 3 sectioned off from a combined ESA/UK industry stand and lecture area. Nevertheless there were several space companies displaying their wares either as a part of this, or on their own stands nearby. There were also a few interesting space industry announcements to keep the reporters’ pens scribbling.

Reaction Engines gets more engine development cash

Reaction Engines Limited (REL) will receive EUR€10 million from the European Space Agency as an interim payment and part of the GBP£60 million (EUR€72 million) already announced in 2013. The money is for the development of its SABRE (Synthetic Air Breathing Rocket Engine). The deal was signed at Farnborough by Franco Ongaro, Director of Technical and Quality Management, ESA, and Mark Thomas, CEO of Reaction Engines Limited. Thomas confirmed that the hurdle of EU state aid approval, combined with tardy action by Whitehall, which had originally delayed the receipt of the rest of the previous allocation of ESA money was now freed up and will be delivered as milestones are achieved.

Having perfected the pre-cooler heat exchanger technology which will allow it to work, the ESA funding (really UK government money channelled though ESA) will be used to build a full scale all up prototype of one of the cores of the SABRE engine. The demonstrator engine will be ready for testing in 2020 and run at Sea Level atmospheric pressure, though the pre-cooler will be tested in a hypersonic wind tunnel environment along with presumably an inlet design.

The firm expects to announce an early stage design contract for the turbomachinery of the engine in the near future.

UK government provides GBP£1.5 million in funding for small satellite launcher investigations

Airbus Safran Launchers, Lockheed Martin, Deimos/Firefly, Virgin Galactic, Orbital Access have each been awarded a share of GBP£1.5 million under the Future Small Payload Launcher (FSPL) programme to try and identify a suitable roadmap for a UK small launcher – either a vertical or horizontally launched type.

The small Scottish firm Orbital Access, which is based at Glasgow Prestwick Airport, is leading the team including BAE Systems and Reaction Engines which is receiving GBP£250,000 to identify a design for a horizontal take off hypersonic test vehicle for the Reaction Engines SABRE engine which may end up being a “stage 1” to a small launch vehicle carrying up to 500 kg to Low-Earth Orbit.

XCOR signs up with Glasgow Prestwick Airport to be its UK Spaceport

On the subject of Glasgow Prestwick airport, the prospective suborbital space tourism operator XCOR space expeditions (part of XCOR Aerospace) has signed a cooperation Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Glasgow-Prestwick airport with a view become its preferred spaceport in the United Kingdom for its XCOR Lynx.

While its Lynx rocket plane programme has been delayed in favour of giving priority to its engine development programme, the firm’s founding partner, Ben Droste, does expect that the rocket plane will be flying “before the next Farnborough [in 2018]…maybe”.

It was emphasised that while it was originally envisaged that there might only be one UK horizontal take off spaceport (a vertical launch spaceport may need a different location), the CAA is empowered to licence more than one if required.

Leonardo gets ESA lunar drill contract while SSTL will build lunar navigation system

Under an EUR€8.8 million (US$9.74 million) contract with ESA, Italian firm Leonardo (Finmeccanica) is to build a new drill apparatus with the help of the UK’s Open University. This be used as part of the Prospect apparatus as a Drill/Mass Spectrometer system on the Russian Luna-Resurs mission to the lunar south polar region in 2021. The drill which will have to cope with lunar dust and possible hard ice can drill to a depth of deeper than 1.2 m. Leonardo is also working on a new capcure and sealing system for the ESA-NASA Mars Sample Return mission.

In a separate announcement, the small satellite firm SSTL (Surrey Satellite Technology Limited), part of Airbus Defence and Space, has partnered with the Goonhilly Earth Station to develop a new Lunar Communications Pathfinder mission. SSTL is directly involved in designing the lunar navigation system for this and future manned missions.

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