The all-British partnership that is developing hypersonic technology for defense purposes revealed its plans and progress at the Farnborough Airshow on Monday.
Led by Reaction Engines, the effort also includes Rolls-Royce and the UK government’s Defence Science Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and National Security Strategic Investment Fund (NSSIF). Called Hypersonic Air Vehicle Experimental (HVX), the work is sponsored by the RAF’s Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO).
“This activity presents a unique opportunity to challenge traditional views on the cost and time associated with the development and fielding of high-Mach platforms,” said Air Vice-Marshal Linc Taylor, the RAF’s chief of staff for capability. He said that the work started three years ago but remained experimental. It includes novel air-breathing propulsion architectures, innovative thermal management systems, and advanced reusable uncrewed vehicle concepts.
Partnership leader Reaction Engines has been developing pre-cooler and combined-cycle engine hardware for some years in the SABRE program. Chief executive Mark Thomas said that thermal management is key to the project, which includes cold-testing of a full-scale engine this year, with hot-testing to follow next year. “We are testing as close to full-scale as possible,” he added.
John Walker, director of future programs for Rolls-Royce, described thermal management technology as a "game-changer." Rolls contributes R&D expertise, but HVX does not include any of the company’s heat exchanger technology that went into the EJ200 turbofan for the Eurofighter. “We can’t say what the donor engine is,” said Thomas.
The program is showing a scale model of a single-engine hypersonic vehicle labeled “Concept V” on the Reaction Engines stand (400 in Hall 4). But Taylor said that the partnership has not chosen a contractor for an airframe. “At this stage, this is about propulsion technology only, which appears to have lower cost and higher capability," he explained. "We have a target for this, and we’ll stop if it doesn’t work.”
While stressing the reusable aspect of the program, Taylor refused to discuss to what use an HVX vehicle might be put. DSTL is exploring the potential operational utility, and Steve Simm, its air systems program manager, noted that DSTL was pursuing a separate hypersonic weapons research program.
The HVX project should provide synergies with space access and high-speed transportation. That has been the focus for SABRE, and Thomas said that Reaction Engines would make some announcements on that project this week.