The UK-based air-breathing rocket developer, Reaction Engines Limited, has announced that it has joined forces with the US Air Force Research Laboratory to develop its engine technologies. Under the Cooperation Rasearch and Development Agreement (“CRADA”) signed with the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Aerospace Systems Directorate (AFRL/RQ), the laboratory will be able to assess the performance, applications and development paths for Reaction Engines SABRE air-breathing rocket engine and its radical heat exchanger technology with a view to using it for hypersonic vehicle applications.
Alan Bond, Managing Director of Reaction Engines commented in the official news release: “The signing of this agreement with AFRL builds on an extraordinary period for Reaction Engines Ltd which has seen the successful demonstration of SABRE’s ultra-lightweight high performance heat exchanger technology and a UK Government commitment of £60m ($100m) towards the next phase of development of the SABRE engine.”
AFRL/RQ project manager Barry Hellman stated that “This CRADA opens the door for joint development and testing to help AFRL understand the SABRE engine’s technical details, and whether it may offer unique performance and vehicle integration advantages when compared to traditional hypersonic vehicle concepts. We look forward to exploring the engine and its lightweight heat exchangers which have the potential to enable hypersonic air-breathing rocket propulsion.”
Comment by David Todd (a small but original shareholder in the Reaction Engines firm): Having gone down the X-30 NASP and the X-33 routes in their failed attempts at developing a single-stage-to-orbit launch vehicle, the United States of America is apparently now following the path whose description was attributed to Sir Winston Churchill: “You can depend upon the Americans to do the right thing. But only after they have exhausted every other possibility.”
This agreement is good news so long as the Reaction Engines firm does not get bound up in secrecy as partially happened to the HOTOL predecessor to the Skylon project in the 1980s. The then UK government did not want to invest in such radical technology but then bound up the developers with secrecy and security restrictions preventing them from sharing the air breathing rocket technology with others. The developers were not bound as well as they might have been as they managed to get round this by totally redesigning the concept and formed the Reaction Engines Ltd company to pursue it.