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New engine aims to get 'space plane' from UK to Australia in 4 hours

Typical UK to Australia flight begins around 22 hours

Image by Spencer Wing from Pixabay.

A “space plane” with a fancy engine is promising to shorten flights by quite a lot — and in the not-so-distant future.

At the UK Space Conference 2019 on Tuesday, the UK Space Station said it would be working with the Australian Space Agency on what officials called a “world-first Space Bridge,” according to CNN.

That bridge could enable people in Britain to get to Australia in as little as four hours -- a flight that can typically take at least 22 hours.

"This is technology that could definitely deliver that,” Graham Turnock, head of the UK Space Agency, said. “We're talking the 2030s for operational service, and the work is already very advanced."

The way this could very likely be possible is through a Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE) engine.

Officials with Reaction Engines, where the SABREs were brought to fruition, said the engine combines the fuel efficiency of a jet engine with the high-speed ability and power of a rocket.

With a successful precooler, the engine reached Mach 3.3 speed — that’s more than three times the speed of sound. The precooler allows for the engine to go so fast by reducing the temperature of gases before entering the core.

"This is a hugely significant milestone which has seen Reaction Engines' proprietary precooler technology achieve unparalleled heat transfer performance," Mark Thomas, Reaction Engines' CEO, told CNN.

If that sounds like gibberish to you, we’ll tell you, in short, it sounds impressive.

Reaction Engines’ program director, Shaun Driscoll, said the SABRE is like a hybrid of a rocket engine and an aero engine, so it allows a rocket to breathe air.

“Rockets really haven't progressed in 70 years, whereas aero engines have become very efficient, so if you can combine an aero engine and a rocket, you can have a very lightweight efficient propulsion system and basically create a space plane,” Driscoll said.

Reaction Engines representatives say it plans to construct a test facility in Buckinghamshire in the U.K. It will be the first ground-based demonstration of the engine.

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