Skylon Spaceplane

The Skylon spaceplane design has the ability to take off as an airplane and reach orbit as a rocket driven craft. The engines use oxygen from the air while the plane is climbing through the atmosphere, then switch to liquid oxygen from a fuel tank as it moves into space.

Skylon spaceplane gathers momentum – []

In the quiet suburbs of Oxfordshire, a small team of engineers may be on the way to achieving what NASA scientists couldn’t – the development of a spaceplane that could reach far into the solar system.

Abingdon-based Reaction Engines has designed the Skylon plane to take payloads – or even passengers – into space from a conventional airport and return them back down to the same runway. The design can carry a 12-tonne payload and could, according to the company, fundamentally change the way we view space travel.

SKYLON Spaceplane: Mission Animation – []
SKYLON is the successor to Britain’s HOTOL spaceplane concept, being developed by Reaction Engines Ltd (REL). It is an unpiloted fully reusable aircraft-like vehicle capable of transporting 12 tonnes of cargo into space and is intended as a replacement for expensive expendable launchers in the commerical market. (Source:

The SKYLON vehicle consists of a slender fuselage containing propellant tankage and payload bay, with delta wings attached midway along the fuselage carrying the SABRE engines in axisymmetric nacelles on the wingtips.

The vehicle takes off and lands horizontally on it’s own undercarriage.

The SABRE engines have a dual mode capability. In rocket mode the engine operates as a closed cycle Lox/Lh2 high specific impulse rocket engine. In air-breathing mode (from take-off to Mach 5) the liquid oxygen flow is replaced by atmospheric air, increasing the installed specific impulse 3-6 fold. The airflow is drawn into the engine via a 2 shock axisymmetric intake and is cooled to cryogenic temperatures prior to compression. The hydrogen fuel acts as a heatsink for the closed cycle helium loop before entering the combustion chamber.

The vehicle takes off and lands using a relatively conventional retractable undercarriage. By special attention to the brake system it has proved possible to achieve an acceptably low undercarriage mass. However, a heavily reinforced runway will be needed to tolerate the high equivalent single wheel load.

At the start of the take-off roll the vehicle weighs 275 tonnes, whilst maximum landing weight is 55 tonnes. At take-off the vehicle carries approximately 66 tonnes of liquid hydrogen and approximately 150 tonnes of liquid oxygen for the ascent.

The ground handling operations will be carried out using a standard aircraft tractor and a bonded goods cargo building permitting overhead loading and protection from the elements. For safety and operational simplicity the cryogenic propellants are loaded subcooled without venting of vapour. Cryogen loading is automatic through services connecting in the undercarriage wells whilst the vehicle is stood on the fuelling apron.

Credits: Reaction Engines Ltd.

British scientists invent ‘Skylon’ spaceplane that will take tourists into orbit at five times the speed of sound – []

A space aircraft that can take off from an ordinary airport runway before carrying tourists into orbit could be a reality with 10 years, according to British scientists.

The 270ft Skylon plane will cost about £700m to build and will be able to carry 24 passengers.

Built by British engineering firm Reaction Engines, the aircraft has no conventional external engines.

Instead the Skylon will travel at five times the speed of sound using two internal engines that suck hydrogen and oxygen from the atmosphere to send it 18 miles above the ground – and out of Earth’s atmosphere.

SKYLON Spaceplane Passenger Logistics Module Movie – []

Skylon vehicle detailed design for the passenger module, which could be swopped out for a payload module. Narrated by Brian Blessed.

Though the SKYLON has primarily been designed to launch satellites, consideration has been given to its passenger carrying capabilities. SKYLON is basically a hypersonic aircraft with hybrid engines, changing their mode of operation as the vehicle leaves the atmosphere. On return, because it is an aircraft, it has a cross range capability and ends its flights by landing conventionally on a runway.

The SKYLON payload bay is 12.7m long, 4.6m wide and 4.6m high. During normal satellite delivery operations, the bay would carry an interchangeable payload container. When used for passenger transport, an alternative pressurised, self-contained module could readily be fitted between flights. This module would provide a breathable atmosphere and additional life support for 30 or 40 passengers. Under the floor of the cabin, part of the space is needed for life support equipment, with the rest available for passenger baggage and cargo.

The central feature of the module is the transfer airlock, used for docking to a space station and for in-orbit transfer between vehicles. Normal ground access is by means of two side doors in the module, which line up with doors in the exterior of the SKYLON fuselage. Passengers would enter and exit using normal airport airbridges.

In case of a ground emergency, e.g. runway overshoot, passengers would exit the cabin through these doors and make their way to the ground by conventional inflatable chutes. The cabin also has two toilet cubicles, operating along the lines of those found on the Russian ‘MIR’ space station.

It would be possible to incorporate windows in the ‘roof’ of the module. During ascent and descent, the payload bay doors would be kept closed, but during the coasting ascent and while in orbit, the payload bay doors would be opened and SKYLON rolled ‘upside down’, providing views of the Earth. While not strictly necessary, windows would possibly reduce the symptoms of space sickness by providing a spatial reference, and of course, the views would far surpass anything that could be seen on a screen. These windows would need to be of a triple layer design, such as those found on the Space Shuttle.
Acceleration (G-Force) experienced by the passengers needs to be considered. It has been shown that it is possible to adjust the ascent profile in such a way that acceleration effects would be no more extreme than those felt on a modern fairground ride, and would not pose a problem for a typically healthy and fit person. Effects felt during the descent phase would be even less extreme.

Credits: Reaction Engines Ltd.

Commercial Space Lift
Space Vehicles

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