Reaction Engines Limited
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Reaction Engines Limited

Reaction Engines Limited
Industry Aerospace, Engineering
Founded 1989
Headquarters Culham Science Centre, Oxfordshire, England
Key people
  • Richard Varville (Chief Designer)
  • Mark Thomas (CEO)
  • Adam Dissel (President of Reaction Engines Inc.)
Products Heat exchangers and propulsion systems for reusable space access and hypersonic flight

Reaction Engines Limited (REL) is a British aerospace manufacturer based in Oxfordshire, England.[1]

History and personnel

Reaction Engines was founded in 1989 by Alan Bond (lead engineer on the British Interplanetary Society's Project Daedalus) and Richard Varvill and John Scott-Scott[2] (the two principal Rolls-Royce engineers from the RB545 engine project). The company conducts research into space propulsion systems, centred on the development of the Skylon re-usable SSTO spaceplane. The three founders worked together on the HOTOL project, funding for which was withdrawn in 1988, largely due to significant technical obstacles.[clarification needed]

The division of responsibilities[3] is:

  • Mark Thomas CEng FRAeS, Managing Director (2015[4])
  • Nigel McNair Scott, Non-Executive Chairman (2010)
  • Tom Scrope, Finance Director (2014[4])
  • Richard Varvill, Technical Director and Chief Designer
  • Sam Hutchison, Director of Corporate Development (2012)
  • Dr Robert Bond, Corporate Programmes Director (2008)
  • Gordon Harrison, Production Director (2010)
  • Dr John Garrod, as Non-Executive Director (1996)

In 2015 BAE Systems agreed to buy a 20% stake in the company for £20.6m as part of an agreement to help develop Reaction's Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE) hypersonic engine designed to propel the Skylon orbiter.[5][6]

In April 2018, Boeing announced its investment in Reaction Engines, through Boeing HorizonX Ventures with a $37.3 million Series B funding alongside Rolls-Royce PLC and BAE Systems.[7]

Current research


Skylon is a design for a single-stage-to-orbit combined-cycle-powered orbital spaceplane.


Skylon and the SABRE engine by which it will be powered are being developed as a private venture which aims to overcome the obstacles that were imposed on further HOTOL development due to the British government classifying the HOTOL engine as an "Official Secret," and keeping the engine design classified for many years afterward.

The company's current research effort is focused on precooler heat exchanger technology, with additional funding gained from the sale of consultancy. The company has also received funding from the EU to investigate applications of its technologies to rapid long-distance passenger transport, under the LAPCAT project.[]

In February 2009, the European Space Agency announced that it was partially funding work on Skylon's engine to produce a demonstration engine by 2011.[8][9]

In July 2016, at the Farnborough Air Show, Reaction Engines announced £60m in funds from the UK Space Agency and ESA to create a ground-based SABRE demonstration engine by 2020.[10]


On 5 February 2008 the company announced it had designed a passenger plane to the concept stage. The A2 would be capable of flying, non stop, halfway around the world at hypersonic speed (Mach 5+).[11]

The A2's engine, SCIMITAR, has precooler technology which is somewhat similar to SABRE, but does not have the rocket features, and is optimized for higher efficiency for atmospheric flight.

United States

In January 2014, REL entered into a Cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with the United States Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to assess and develop SABRE technology.[12]

In 2015 AFRL announced their analysis "confirmed the feasibility and potential performance of the SABRE engine cycle." however they felt SSTO as a first application was a very high risk development path and proposed that a Two Stage to Orbit (TSTO) vehicle was a more realistic first step.

In 2016 AFRL released two TSTO concepts using SABRE in the first stage: The first 150 feet (46 m) long carrying an expendable upper stage in an underside opening cargo bay capable of delivering around 5,000 pounds (2.3 t) to a 100 nautical miles (190 km) orbit, the second 190 feet (58 m) long carrying a reusable spaceplane on its back, capable of delivering around 20,000 pounds (9.1 t) to a 100 nautical miles (190 km) orbit.[13]

In March 2017, REL announced the formation of an American subsidiary, Reaction Engines Inc (REI), led by Adam Dissel in Castle Rock, Colorado.

In September 2017, REI announced a contract from DARPA to test a REL precooler test article "THX" at temperatures exceeding 1,000 °C (1,830 °F),[14] previous precooler tests focusing on frost control having been conducted from ambient temperature.

Advanced studies

Reaction Engines Ltd. is currently also researching more advanced spaceflight.

Passenger Module for Skylon

Although Skylon is designed to only launch and retrieve satellites, and that is also unmanned, Reaction Engines Ltd. has proposed a passenger module in the payload bay of the Reaction Engines Skylon spaceplane.[15]

The passenger module is sized to fit in the payload bay, and can carry up to 24 passengers and 1 crew. There is an ISS-type docking port and airlock as the central feature. There are two ground entry doors that align with the doors on the side of the Skylon payload bay to allow easy ground access to the cabin. The doors are fitted with conventional inflatable chutes for passengers to escape in case of any ground emergency. There are Space Shuttle-type windows on the roof of the module for passengers to enjoy the view in space. There is also a washroom and hygienic facilities provided in the cabin.[]

The initial configuration will be fitted with five ejector seats, for four passengers and one crew, rather similar to the first four Space Shuttle spaceflights. Once the passenger module is fully certified, the ejection seats will be removed and there will be 16 upright seats installed for a short stay in space (<14 days) and 4 supine seats for long stay in space (>14 days). An upright seat will also be provided for the crew. There are also life support systems under the cabin floor, equipment bays, and cargo holds.[]

Orbital Base Station

The Orbital Base Station (OBS) is a concept of a future, expandable space station to serve as an integral part of a future space transportation system and also in the maintenance and construction of future manned Moon and Mars spacecraft.[16]

The construction of the OBS is modular, and assumes the use of the Reaction Engines Skylon in Low Earth Orbit. The structure is based on a cylinder, designed to allow space inside the cylindrical section for the construction and repair of various spacecraft. The cylindrical structure will also provide space for habitation modules with docking ports, manipulator arms, and propellant farms to refuel an interplanetary spacecraft.

Reaction Engines Project Troy

The Reaction Engines Troy Mission is a concept of a future Manned mission to Mars. The concept arose to confirm the capability of the Skylon launch vehicle that it can and does enable large human exploration to the Solar System's planets.[17]

The Troy spacecraft will consist of an unmanned Precursor mission, which will consist of an Earth Departure Stage, and a Mars Transfer Stage. There is a habitation module, a storage module, and a propulsion module to be deployed from the spacecraft to land together at a selected site on the Martian surface to form a base. There are also ferry vehicles designed to transfer crew members to and from the base to the orbiting manned spacecraft. There will be three Precursor spacecraft to Mars to set up three bases on the planet to enable maximum exploration of the planet's surface.

50 days after launch, the Earth Departure Stage is brought back to Low Earth Orbit by the Earth's gravity, and the Fluyt space tug will bring the stage back to the Orbital Base Station for construction of the later Manned mission.[]

The Manned spacecraft will consist of 3 habitation modules, 3 docking ports, and two ferry vehicles. The spacecraft will rotate along the centerline to provide artificial gravity.It will leave Earth with the Earth Departure Stage and transfer to Mars with the Mars Transfer Stage, and rendezvous with the Precursor spacecraft in Martian orbit. The craft will dock together to enable the crew to transfer to the ferry vehicles for descent to the surface at a selected site. The crew, along with the equipped rovers, will spend 14 months to explore the Martian surface. The crew will return to Martian orbit with the ferry vehicle and rendezvous and dock with the orbiting Manned spacecraft. After a detailed inspection of the vehicle, the spacecraft will leave Mars for Earth on the Earth Return Stage. When the craft is captured in a Molniya orbit around Earth, the crew will board a ferry vehicle for transfer to Low Earth Orbit and rendezvous and dock with the waiting Skylon spacecraft for return to Earth.

Construction of the spacecraft will take place at the Orbital Base Station inside the cylindrical structure. Because the spacecraft is of highly modular design, the components will be brought up by the Skylon spacecraft. The rocket engines, fuel and oxidizer tanks, and habitation modules are sized to fit inside the Skylon payload bay, and that the fully assembled craft would also fit inside the cylindrical structure of the OBS.[18]

Fluyt OTV

The Fluyt Orbital Transfer Vehicle is a concept of a future space tug. It has the ability to dock with orbiting spacecraft and move payload in orbit. It is designed to be assembled from two parts, each sized to fit inside the Skylon payload bay, it can be launched from the Skylon and will also be an integral part for the construction of the Orbital Base Station as well as the Reaction Engines Troy and the retrieval of the Earth Departure Stage from the Precursor mission of the Troy mission.[19][20]


  1. ^ "Reaction Engines Ltd. Main Page". Retrieved .
  2. ^ "BBC Four - The Three Rocketeers". 2012-09-15. Retrieved .
  3. ^ "Reaction Engines Ltd - About: Management". Archived from the original on 27 June 2016. Retrieved 2016.
  4. ^ a b "Reaction Engines Ltd - News Updates". Archived from the original on 18 October 2014. Retrieved 2016.
  5. ^ Norris, Guy (1 November 2015). "BAE Takes Stake In Reaction Engines Hypersonic Development". Aviation Week & Space Technology. Retrieved 2015.
  6. ^ Peggy Hollinger; Clive Cookson (2015-11-01). "BAE Systems to pay £20.6m for 20% of space engine group". Retrieved .
  7. ^ "Boeing HorizonX Invests in Reaction Engines, a UK Hypersonic Propulsion Company" (Press release). Boeing. April 11, 2018.
  8. ^ Rob Coppinger (19 February 2009). "Skylon spaceplane engine technology gets European funding". Flight Global. Retrieved .
  9. ^ Jonathan Amos (19 February 2009). "Skylon spaceplane gets cash boost". BBC News. Retrieved .
  10. ^ Anthony, Sebastian (13 July 2016). "Reaction Engines unlocks funds for single-stage-to-orbit SABRE engine". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2016.
  11. ^ "Hypersonic passenger jet designed". BBC News. 5 February 2008. Retrieved .
  12. ^ Jason Ford. "ARFL confirms feasibility of Reaction Engines' SABRE engine concept". The Engineer. Archived from the original on 11 August 2016. Retrieved 2017.
  13. ^ [1]
  14. ^ "Reaction Engines Awarded DARPA Contract to Perform High-Temperature Testing of the SABRE Precooler" (Press release). 25 September 2017. Archived from the original on 28 September 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  15. ^ "Passenger module study for Reaction Engines Skylon". Archived from the original on 15 June 2012. Retrieved 2016.
  16. ^ "Advanced Studies: Orbital Base Station". Archived from the original on 6 July 2012. Retrieved 2016.
  17. ^ "Advanced Studies: Reaction Engines TROY". Archived from the original on 28 June 2012. Retrieved 2016.
  18. ^ "Video on TROY Mission to Mars". Archived from the original on 26 June 2016. Retrieved 2016.
  19. ^ "The Fluyt OTV". Archived from the original on 5 July 2012. Retrieved 2016.
  20. ^ IAC-10.D2.3.7 - The Fluyt Stage: A Design for a Space-Based Orbit Transfer Vehicle


External links

Coordinates: 51°39?26?N 1°13?50?W / 51.657228°N 1.230461°W / 51.657228; -1.230461

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