High-speed flight and space launch technologies are in the midst of an era of significant advances which will have a transformational impact on the capabilities available to both commercial users and defense planners. Research and development activities conducted as part of Government-led research programs and by commercial companies are pushing the boundaries of conventional hypersonic propulsion technologies and leading to the development of innovative new engine technologies that could lead to a step-change in capabilities.
This increased focus on hypersonic technologies is being driven by a building awareness of the need for the US and its allies to maintain their technological leadership, particularly given recent advances made by Russia and China. This focus was demonstrated by the Defense Department’s recent request of $2.6 billion toward the development of hypersonic technologies in the fiscal year 2020 and its decision to nearly double its long-term investments from $6 billion to $11.2 billion over the next five years.
At the same time, significant growth in the commercial spaceflight sector has resulted in advances in launch technologies which are being driven by pioneering commercial entrants such as Space-X and Blue Origin. Their innovation is succeeding in driving down launch costs and increasing the reusability of launch vehicles. However, in the main, these advances are seeking to improve on chemical launcher technology that was first developed in the middle of the last century, so will invariably reach a limit beyond which further fundamental capability enhancements will be difficult to deliver.
Against this backdrop, major recent advances made by the team at Reaction Engines in the development of its innovative SABRE class of combined cycle air-breathing rocket engines have received significant attention.
Reaction Engines, where I have been chief executive since May 2015, is a privately held company based in Oxfordshire, UK with a US incorporated subsidiary and testing facilities located in Colorado. The company has raised over $130m from private and commercial sources over the last four years, including investments from Boeing Horizon-X, Rolls- Royce, and BAE Systems, as well as funding from DARPA, the UK Government, and the European Space Agency.