Monday, April 30, 2012

Skylon Spaceplane's New Engine Test; Old Video; Passenger Module

"Key tests for Skylon spaceplane project"
BBC News (April 27, 2012)

"UK engineers have begun critical tests on a new engine technology designed to lift a spaceplane into orbit.

(Reaction Engines, via BBC, used w/o permission)
"The pre-cooler demonstration is a major step in proving the Skylon concept"

"The proposed Skylon vehicle would operate like an airliner, taking off and landing at a conventional runway.

"Its major innovation is the Sabre engine, which can breathe air like a jet at lower speeds but switch to a rocket mode in the high atmosphere.

"Reaction Engines Limited (REL) believes the test campaign will prove the readiness of Sabre's key elements.

"This being so, the firm would then approach investors to raise the £250m needed to take the project into the final design phase.

" 'We intend to go to the Farnborough International Air Show in July with a clear message,' explained REL managing director Alan Bond.

" 'The message is that Britain has the next step beyond the jet engine; that we can reduce the world to four hours - the maximum time it would take to go anywhere. And that it also gives us aircraft that can go into space, replacing all the expendable rockets we use today.'..."

The Lemming's been following Skylon for a few years now. It's good to see another milestone approaching for the robot spaceplane.

Giving Skylon artificial intelligence should save a lot of weight, since autopilots don't need the sort of bulky environment systems that humans require. It's smart design, in the Lemming's opinion, since Skylon is designed for routine cargo runs.

On the other hand, Skylon's operators may run into legal complications. The Lemming hasn't researched this, but it seems likely that someone's going to make a fuss about a 269-foot-long robot sharing airspace and taxiways with other aircraft. There may even be laws that say an airplane has to have a human pilot.

Human Pilots: Good News, Bad News

In the Lemming's opinion, humans are pretty good at dealing with unexpected situations. Particularly if there isn't a whole lot of data available for a thorough analysis. As someone said:
  • Computers are designed to arrive at correct solutions
    • Given enormous amounts of data
      • All of which is completely accurate
  • Human brains are designed to arrive at correct solutions
    • Given very little data
      • Most of which is wrong
A wide-awake, undistracted, human pilot is nice to have around when you're 1,500 feet over a major city and the engines quit. But now and then someone falls asleep, or misses the airport: which tends to diminish the impression that a human's place is at the controls. The Lemming has posted about the ups and downs of having humans in the loop before:

Skylon: the Video

"SKYLON Spaceplane: Mission Animation"

SpaceRenaissance, YouTube (August 10, 2010)
video, 6:45
"SKYLON is the successor to Britain's HOTOL spaceplane concept, being developed by Reaction Engines Ltd (REL). It is an unpiloted fully reusable aircraft-like vehicle capable of transporting 12 tonnes of cargo into space and is intended as a replacement for expensive expendable launchers in the commerical {!] market. (Source:"

"Blue Danube," starting about 3:18 into the video, is a nod to Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968). That, or a whacking great coincidence. Either way, it's a pretty good 'this is how it works' video. Or, more accurately, how Skylon will work. Provided that technical issues are manageable, and investors keep funding it.

Of course, it's possible that Reaction Engines' investors will decide that they'd rather not be part of 21st century transportation. That would change details aerospace transport, but not the 'big picture.' In the Lemming's opnion. There are other outfits with systems to service low Earth orbit installations in the works, like:There are more: and McDonnell Douglas Aerospace/Boeing may dust off its Delta Clipper/DC X.

Skylon: Optional Passenger Module

(Reaction Engines Ltd., used w/o permission)

That passenger module could easily go through a few more design changes before Skylon actually flies. From the looks of what Reaction Engines Ltd. has now, Skylon flights could serve as a sort of commuter service to whatever replaces the ISS. Or maybe drop the module off in orbit as a sort of mini-station.

More about Skylon:
  • "SKYLON"
    Reaction Engines Ltd.
Related posts:
Still more, about:

1 comment:

Terence said...

Interesting and lovely pictures.

Unique, innovative candles

Visit us online:
Spiral Light CandleFind a Retailer
Spiral Light Candle online store

Pinterest: From the Man Behind the Lemming

Top 10 Most-Viewed Posts

Today's News! Some of it, anyway

Actually, some of yesterday's news may be here. Or maybe last week's.
The software and science stuff might still be interesting, though. Or not.
The Lemming thinks it's interesting: Your experience may vary.
("Following" list moved here, after Blogger changed formats)

Who Follows the Lemming?


Family Blogs - Blog Catalog Blog Directory