BAE Systems to acquire 20-per cent stake in Reaction Engines

BAE Systems is acquiring a 20-per cent stake in aerospace technology company Reaction Engines (RE) for £20.6 million.

With the deal BAE aims to get a foothold in emerging sectors such as low-cost space launch and high-speed commercial flights.

BAE's Group MD for programs, Nigel Whitehead, said, "We look at this particular technology and say there is a world of possibilities in terms of what you can do with this", International Business Times reported.

Oxford-based RE foresees that its hypersonic space-plane, named Skylon, at a future date, would drastically cut the cost of satellite launches and even allow passengers to fly across the world in four hours. The plane could potentially transform the space and aviation businesses.

RE intends to use the funds from the stake sale to develop a ground-based demonstrator engine, which set to be functional by 2020 with tests expected to last about a year.

This engine would be a new way to power a launcher that took off like an aircraft, flew into space, deployed a satellite, and returned to earth for reuse within 48 hours.

A working partnership would be formed allowing Reaction Engines to tap BAE's engineering talent and resources. The arrangement is expected to accelerated development of technology that could revolutionise air travel and space flight.

Whitehead said, ''The potential for this engine is incredible. I feel like we're in the same position as the people who were the first to consider putting a propeller on an internal combustion engine: we understand that there are amazing possibilities but don't fully understand what they are, as we just can't imagine them all, The Telegraph reported.

''It could be very high speed flight, low-cost launches to orbit or other fantastic achievements.''

For 20 years Reaction Engines had been working on its Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE), which works like a normal jet engine while in the earth's atmosphere, sucking in air to burn with its hydrogen fuel.

However, once it hit five times the speed of sound – about 2,500 mph at altitude where it was close to leaving the atmosphere where there was  no air, it switched to being a conventional rocket engine, burning the liquefied oxygen it carried along with its fuel.