UK rocket-botherers rattle SABRE, snaffle big bucks

£26.5m in new cash to see 2020 ground tests of Synergetic Air Breathing Rocket Engine

UK rocket botherer Reaction Engines Limited (REL) has raised £26.5m from backers in the finance and aerospace fields towards development of its Synergetic Air Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE).

SABRE has stubbornly refused to leave the lab bench and, with ground testing of the engine core due to start in 2020, the cash injection will come in handy, particularly in the construction of REL’s shiny new test facility in Westcott, Buckinghamshire, UK.

The new money came from Boeing’s investment entity, Boeing HorizonX Ventures, and Rolls Royce. The money is small change for Rolls, who took a £227m hit earlier in the year thanks to problems with the Trent 1000 and 900 engines, the former of which powers Boeing’s 787.

Since the investment is for new shares, existing REL shareholders will need to give the deal the stamp of approval.

Mark Thomas, chief exec of REL, was thrilled to trouser the cash, saying “these new partners bring invaluable expertise in both hypersonics and engine technologies with significant access to target markets”.

Paul Stein, chief technology officer of Rolls Royce, said: "We plan to incorporate this technology into our own future products.”

SABRE itself is capable of Mach 5.4 in air breathing mode, before going to Mach 25 in rocket mode, using onboard liquid oxygen.

REL is keen to commercialise innovations made in the path towards the first working engine, with the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) taking an interest in REL’s heat exchanger technology.

The new money takes the investments made in REL to £100m over the last three years, including £60m of UK taxpayer cash.

Sam Gyimah, UK Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, trilled: “Through our ambitious Industrial Strategy, we are working with the sector to pursue new opportunities, develop technologies and infrastructure, and enable small satellite launch and sub-orbital flight from UK spaceports for the first time.”

With the first tests having SABRE firmly bolted to the ground, it may be a while before Gyimah will see spacecraft powered by REL’s technology blasting off from a Cornish spaceport. ®

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