Skylon announced rocket breakthrough!

Again.

Alan Bond has been announcing UK to Oz in four hours by his new jet plane for some decades now. Every couple of years we get another flash of stories.

Who knows, one day someone might actually build one of his designs.

23 comments on “Skylon announced rocket breakthrough!

  1. Well all very interesting as an ex-pat aussie living in the civilised world I have to say that even if the technology is viable I have my doubts. It depends on whether the future of air transport is about speed of price. I think it is more likely that price will be the factor and the future is likely to be extended range airbus A380s than concorde.

    The difficulty is not the technology (although this is a fantastic breakthrough if it is true) the issue will always be costs per seat mile. Unless there is a cheap substitute for jet fuel this isn’t going to fly (see what I did there?). From what I understand about energy sources we have pretty good substitutes for most types of fuel. Ships and electricity can run on coal as well as oil. Cars could run on natural gas, ethanol, electricity. Is there are reasonably substitute for jet fuel that is economically viable?

  2. The space shuttle was a half-way house – only part of it was reusable. If the engine works – still a big uncertainty – then a fully reusable spaceplane could be built. But the economics of it would then kick in. Do you use cheap proven throwaway rockets or an expensive multiuse one?
    I don’t know – so best let private capital work on it. Not my tax money.

  3. No relation to *that* Alan Bond, presumably…

    I can see the economics working for one daily service, all first-class, if the Concorde problem of overflight rights can be solved. The masses will continue with two-hop very large aircraft until we’re all very old, dead, or both.

  4. The mention of the UK/Australia in 4 hours possibility actually obscures the implications. A vehicle capable of effectively a fractional orbit on an over-the-poles trajectory (not benefiting from the earth’s rotational assist) is well on the way to a single stage to orbit reusable. A real spaceship comparable with SciFi imaginings. Something like a 2 orders of magnitude reduction in the cost of getting to space.

    Viable micro-gravity industries – possibilities for pharmaceuticals, materials manufacture, electronics manufacture. List’s endless.

    The moon, as a destination, with little more hustle than Sydney now.

    A gateway to the rest of the universe.

    And we’re discussing the price of jet fuel?

  5. Yes OO (no1)
    Avgas is the most concentrated energy possible. Beats even H2.
    But if you have to carry the oxygen as well energy efficiency goes down. So flying in space has to have some compelling reason such as overcoming air resistance, unless the surface of the globe is concave, which it wasn’t last time I looked.

  6. A giant disc shaped airship 2 miles in diameter is the future of terrestial air travel. Luxury to a degree undreamed of by ocean liners. Such a craft would take several days to reach Austrailia but so enjoyable would the voyage be nobody would care. In fact by the time it got there nobody would want to disembark for the petty enjoyments of the Antipodes anyway.

  7. It might just be my computer but two phrases in my post above appear to have been lnked to adverts. It is nothing to do with me and I’d be grateful Tim, if your site either didn’t do it or sent me some money for being an advertising medium.
    Thanks

    Tim adds@ It’s your computer.

  8. Sorry about that Tim–it seems to be something to do with Twitter which has appeared unbidden on my computer prob because (since I despise twitter) I must have clicked on something by mistake.

    Trying to fix it now.

  9. That’s not exactly what the story is (newspaper reporters get story wrong again – not a newsflash, I guess …)

    Skylon is not designed as a transport for Australia, but for single stage to orbit transport. A completely reuseable, economically viable shuttle.

    To do so, requires technology that wasn’t available in the Eighties, Nineties, or Oh-ies. In fact, to do so, has always required magic tech at some point, often a multiplicity of “magic boxes” to overcome some insurmountable technical problem. Bond managed to design down to a single “magic box” – a pre-cooler for air that worked far faster than anything ever designed, orders of magnitude less massive than ever built before, without the water-freezing issues that had previously afflicted the technology.

    The key to his project was to:
    a – Validate the design such that it is engineeringly sound and confirmed that only that single magic box is required.
    b – Design and successfully build the magic box.
    (and c – provide a realistic economic plan for the design, development, production and use of Skylon).

    A and C have been confirmed before, most notably by the ESA, how gave it a sustained investigation and assault, before concluding that if anything, REL were being overly pessimistic.

    This week, he successfully tested and proved B – the magic box. Which is now no longer magic, but sober engineering fact.

    He’s not gunning for Government funding – Skylon is 90% privately funded and his economic plan relies on that continuing. I’d expect continued steady progress before flight of a subscale boilerplate model in about 2018-2019, prototype production in 2020-2022 and actual sale of production models in 2022-2025.

  10. Andy Cooke said: “He’s not gunning for Government funding ”

    Because he’s already had some as part of the HOTOL project in the 80s that Skylon is a continuation of.

    I wonder if the cooler could be useful in the (potty) carbon capture and storage business for cooling flue gases and extracting the CO2.

  11. The announcement has more to do with the scarcely believable claim that they can now cool the input charge by 1000Deg C. in milli-secs. Not only does this raise the question of icing but where the hell do they dump the heat? The resultant huge improvement in thermal efficiency will be of great benefit to human kind. They are trying raise £250 mill. for development, this is the sort of money Rolls-Royce spend on the development of a set of turbine blades that might give a 5% improvement. No mention of R-R queuing up to be involved, though.
    I smell snake oil.

  12. The problem with making long-haul flights quicker is that in doing so you make them much more expensive, which doesn’t make a lot of sense when you consider that if you have money then long-haul flights are pretty easy: you take business and first class.

    I’m not sure why Concorde wasn’t a commercial success, but the idea that businessmen will take off in the morning for an afternoon meeting and then fly back again was always bollocks, and more so in the internet age. Businessmen now don’t really care about the length of flight, especially as with laptops you can work all that time. What they care about is not being crushed into a tiny seat in economy, and jetlag.

    For the poor sods who have to fly long-haul in economy, a more expensive faster option isn’t much use. If they had the money, they’d be flying business anyway.

  13. Gareth,
    The HOTOL funding for a few million about thirty years ago isn’t really a big thing, is it?

    Nick,
    They’re dropping it by over 100 degrees, not 1000 degrees (the Telegraph reporter may not be the most competent source). They’ve been successfully raising money so far and look like they are doing it still. Of course, a return of 10 years plus on a novel development technology is probably outside of R-R’s current account portfolio.

    A better write-up is at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-20510112
    A lot of the experts in the field – all of whom have seen plenty of snake-oil in the past and tend to the cynical – seem pretty convinced about it.

  14. ” if the Concorde problem of overflight rights can be solved.”
    Except there’s no problem to solve. A hypersonic flies above the point in the atmosphere where the temperature stops falling & begins rising. Any sonic shockwave above that altitude is reflected back up from the boundary. It’s similar to the way that sonar won’t penetrate similar temperature boundaries in the ocean, allowing submarines to escape detection.

  15. I’m not sure why Concorde wasn’t a commercial success

    Overflight rights, as I suggested above. It made money on LHR-JFK after capital costs were written off, but it wasn’t allowed on any of the other lucrative business routes because of (reasonable concerns/protectionist bullshit) about supersonic noise over land.

    Businessmen now don’t really care about the length of flight, especially as with laptops you can work all that time. What they care about is not being crushed into a tiny seat in economy, and jetlag.

    This is definitely true at middle-management level in a large corporation, or at consultant level at a PS firm. The level that you and I have flown business, I’m roughly assuming.

    But it isn’t at all true for PS partners, major company CEOs, or major VCs.

    If your time is expensive enough that someone else who you trust makes your PPTs for you, then maximising the number of meetings you can have is far more important than whether you can do stuff on the plane.

    (in one of my previous jobs, a partner flew to NZ for a meeting. We won the pitch, but for internal costing purposes the project had to absorb gbp12k for two days of his time, on top of the gbp5k for his flights).

  16. Gareth,
    After refusing to fund development, the UK Government classified all details of the RB545 proposed liquid air cycle engine. Which meant that fairly basic elements like the intake had to be redesigned in order to not take those elements out of classification.

    The intake and other such elements hardly represent a majority of the design. That particular element was hardly a huge component – but having a workable intake is fairly essential. The work done in the 30 years since and with all of the money spent on it since hardly makes this a Government-funded programme because a precursor was proposed and early stages of research carried out a generation ago before being halted and classified.

  17. “I’m not sure why Concorde wasn’t a commercial success, but the idea that businessmen will take off in the morning for an afternoon meeting and then fly back again was always bollocks, and more so in the internet age. ”

    Not completely. I had Sunday lunch outside New York many years ago (1985-ish) with David Band who was about #3 at JP Morgan, and later was managing director of BZW. He left the lunch at about 3.30 to take Concorde to London, returning the next afternoon to Washington, flying back to Paris on Monday evening, returning to New York on Tuesday evening, all on Concorde.

    Needless to add, he died of a heart attack about 10 years later.

  18. This is definitely true at middle-management level in a large corporation, or at consultant level at a PS firm. The level that you and I have flown business, I’m roughly assuming.

    Good assumption, although there is no chance whatsoever you’d catch me working on a plane.

    But it isn’t at all true for PS partners, major company CEOs, or major VCs.

    True, which is why a lot of them use corporate jets. A lot of people see them as a flagrant display of corporate wealth, but you really don’t want a CEO of a major oil company fannying about on scheduled airlines.

  19. Notwithstanding the Titanic etc, this stuff makes me even more certain that I shall go by sea when I next go to Oz.
    E.g.Concorde.

  20. TN: agreed, but a 100-seater all-first-class hypersonic service from SYD to LHR and LAX is a different proposition time-wise. And you can always have a private jet waiting on the ground at the destination airport for ease of transfer to Broken Hill/Aberdeen/Alberta.

  21. The point about Alan Bond’s work is that there is now a credible way of achieving 50- 100 fold reductions in the cost of access to Space.
    Space travel is now the ONLY transportation area which has the potential to actually reduce costs for its users.

    For that reason alone, in an age of rampant cost increases, we should support its introduction wholeheartedly. If only someone could achieve as much with domestic energy bills!

    More to the point, with “New Space” set to reduce costs by 10-100 fold, Europe faces a choice between Skylon and an extinct space launcher industry.

    The UK can and should build Skylon on its own, if the ESA fails to adopt it. Development costs are comparable to the Olympic Games, and the potential prize is infinitely (pardon me) greater!!

    Wouldn’t it be good to be ruled by politicians who are scientifically literate?

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