Lengthy air flights could become a thing of the past after BAE Systems invested in a company working on super-speed engines that are capable of travelling more than five times the speed of sound.

The firm has spent £20.6m on a 20% stake in Reaction Engines, which has been working on the revolutionary Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE) for 20 years.

In 2013 George Osborne announced the government with invest £60m in the company, which is based in Oxfordshire.  The investments allow the company to move from research, to testing and development.

Sabre is a hybrid rocket/jet engine that work in two ways.

In air-breathing mode it sucks in air to burn with its hydrogen fuel - like normal jet engines travelling in the Earth’s atmosphere. 


When it gets up to five times the speed of sound and starts to leave the atmosphere it goes into rocket mode and uses a heat exchanger to cool the airstream from 1000°C to minus 150°C in a hundredth of a second. This allows the engine to create its own liquid oxygen and save on the costs of carrying it on board.

Watch the video above to see how it will work on Reaction Engines’s Skylon aircraft.

Aircraft using the engine could accelerate up to 25 times the speed of sound in space, which could cut travel times from the UK to Australia down to just four hours.  

The company aims to carry out ground tests of the engine by 2020 and start unmanned test flights by 2025.

Reaction Engines will be able to take advantage of BAE’s engineering talent and resources as part of the working partnership.

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Speaking about the deal, BAE Group Managing Director Nigel Whitehead said the collaboration gives BAE systems a strategic interest in technology with significant potential in the future:  “Our partnership with Reaction Engines is part of our sustained commitment to investing in and developing prospective emerging technologies. BAE Systems’ considerable engineering and development expertise will help support the delivery of the first demonstrator for the SABRE engine.”


Jo Johnson MP, Minister for Universities and Science added: “This investment by BAE Systems reflects the strength of British engineering and technology and our ambitions as a leading space nation. I am sure that this partnership will strengthen both organisations - helping to create more jobs in the UK’s growing space sector and ultimately to make the SABRE engine a reality.”

Obviously this is a long way off and there are still many tests to carry out. High speed travel is something we are hearing more and more of in recent years. Back in June heard about a hypersonic vehicle that could fly from New York to London in an hour.

Tesla founder Elon Musk has been working on his own private space exploration firm SpaceX, which received $1 billion in funding from Google earlier this year.

SpaceX was used to send a shipment of goods up to the International Space Station in April, but so far the group have been unsuccessful in landing the leftover booster.

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Video credit: BAE / Reaction Engines