Fly me to the moon – on a plane

By Mark Halper | November 28, 2012, 5:09 AM PST

Engineers in Britain have passed a major milestone in the development of a plane that can fly into space, auguring an airline experience that would replace today’s expensive, cumbersome and dangerous rocket propulsion.

The company designing the reusable Skylon “spaceplane,” Reaction Engines Ltd, has developed an innovative helium cooling system that would allow the craft to operate safely, the BBC reports.

Skylon would take off and land on a runway, unlike the recently retired Space Shuttle in the U.S., which the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched on the back of breakaway rockets during its 30-year run.

For early flight stages, Skylon uses a rocket engine, but one that sucks in air – oxygen – much like on a jet plane, explains developers REL, of Culham, England.

Other attempts to eliminate expendable boosters have used bulky and and costly liquid oxygen. Skylon switches to conventional liquid oxygen fuel once it flies above the atmosphere and loses access to airborne oxygen. At this stage of flight it uses the same engine, which REL calls SABRE, or synergistic air-breathing rocket engine.

Read more: Fly me to the moon – on a plane | SmartPlanet.

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