When supersonic is too slow, go hypersonic

Boeing and Rolls-Royce invest in Reaction Engines, a British company developing a hypersonic propulsion system that's part rocket, part jet engine.

Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German

In one concept for the SABRE engine, it would detach from an aircraft to launch a satellite into orbit. 

Reaction Engines

Since the last flight of the Concorde 15 years ago, plenty of aerospace companies have been trying to keep the dream of faster-than-sound flight alive in one way or another.

One of those firms, UK-based Reaction Engines, got a boost Thursday when Boeing , Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems invested £26.5 million (about $37.4 million) in its hybrid aircraft engine that would operate both as a super-fast jet and a space-bound rocket. 


A cutaway drawing of the SABRE engine.

Reaction Engines

Still in development, the SABRE engine would breathe air at lower altitudes for a top speed of around Mach 5 (generally, hypersonic flight is at least five times the speed of sound), but then switch to a Mach 25 rocket mode when it reaches thinner altitudes at the edge of space.

Set for ground testing by 2020, SABRE (it stands for Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine) could be used in several ways, including powering hypersonic passenger airliners and reusable space vehicles and launching satellites into orbit.

Watch this: A Concorde gets a new home

In its press release, Boeing's investment arm, HorizonX, didn't state how it might use SABRE, except that it expects "to leverage the revolutionary technology to support Boeing's pursuit of hypersonic flight." Rolls-Royce, which makes conventional subsonic jet engines in addition to cars, was equally cagey, saying it plans "to incorporate this technology into future products."

A look inside the last Concorde

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