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Skylon

Skylon

Skylon is a spaceplane design that is under development by Reaction Engines, a British company. The basic idea is to fly (like a conventional airplane) up through the atmosphere into space, using a lot less thrust than conventional rockets which “blast” their way straight up into space, requiring vast amounts of thrust. By flying like an airplane and increasing altitude slowly, the acceleration can be much more gradual. One problem with this approach is that conventional aircraft jet engines are designed to operate in air and once the craft has reached an altitude where the air becomes thin, it will need to switch over to some form of rocket like propulsion. Reaction Engines think they have solved this problem with a hybrid engine that can operate in either jet or rocket mode.

THE SKYLON SPACEPLANE: PROGRESS TO REALISATION – [reactionengines.com]

The Skylon spaceplane will enable single stage to orbit delivery of payloads with aircraft like operations. The key to realising this goal is a combined cycle engine that can operate both in airbreathing and pure rocket modes. To achieve this new low mass structure concepts and several new engine technologies need to be proven. An extensive program of technology development has addressed these issues with very positive results. This now allows the project to proceed to the final concept proving stage before full development commences.

The Skylon reduces the required mass ratio by improving the engine specific impulse by operating in an airbreathing mode in the early stages of the flight – up to around Mach 5.5 and an altitude of 25 kilometres before the engine switches to a pure rocket mode to complete the ascent to orbit. This makes a very significant difference; a pure rocket needs to achieve an equivalent velocity of around 9200 m/sec (7700 m/sec orbital speed and 1500 m/sec in various trajectory losses) whereas the airbreathing absorbs about 1500 m/sec of the orbital speed and 1200 m/sec of the trajectory losses so the pure rocket phases needs to provide only 6500 m/sec and this increases the minimum mass ratio from 0.13 to 0.21. Even with the extra engine mass required for the airbreathing operation this is a far more achievable target.

Progress to the Skylon Single Stage to Orbit Spaceplane for 2019 – [nextbigfuture.com]

Cost to Orbit

The Skylon vehicle has been designed with the aim of achieving not less than 200 flights per vehicle. This seems a reasonable target for a first generation machine. Various scenarios have been examined but the uncertainty lies with assumptions on traffic growth.

At present the true launch cost of a typical 2-3 tonne spacecraft is about $150 million. Actual costs paid by customers vary from about one-third to one half of this due to the hidden subsidies on vehicle development, range maintenance, range activity and support infrastructure. For Skylon, if no growth occurred and all operators flew equal numbers of the current approximately 100 satellites per year using 30 in-service spaceplanes from 3 spaceports, the true launch cost would be about $40 million per flight [$1200/lb to LEO].

They expect mission costs to fall to about $10 million per launch for high product value cargo (e.g. communications satellites) $2-5 million for low product value cargo (e.g. science satellites) and for costs per passenger to fall below $100k, for tourists when orbital facilities exist to accommodate them.

As high volume flights are performed the 15 ton payload to LEO orbit would be $2-10 million per launch which would be $66/lb to $330/lb.

Skylon space shuttle just ten years away – [cosmosmagazine.com]

LONDON: A high-tech spaceplane that takes off from an ordinary runway, and will slash the cost of flying to space, could be just ten years away, say experts.

The Skylon plane – which garnered one million euros (A$1.9 million) in support from the European Space Agency this week – is designed to carry up to 12 tonnes of cargo into orbit and return to land on the same runway.

New age of exploration
The unmanned, 82-metre plane is totally reusable, unlike most current launch technology. NASA’s Space Shuttle is partly reusable and can carry 24.4 tonnes of cargo to low Earth orbit, but has to be launched like a conventional rocket at phenomenal expense.

Skylon’s designers estimate that their shuttle could slash the cost of launching into orbit from US$100 to 700 million per launch, to just US$10 million, and in doing so, encourage a new age of space exploration.

Skylon – [astronautix.com]

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