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What is the Skylon Spaceplane ?

The Skylon Spaceplane is a proposal to build an orbital launch vehicle, which involves taking off from a traditional runway, accelerating to up to Mach 5.5 via a turbojet engine, switching its operation via a rocket engine and accelerating to Mach 23 orbital speed. The British company from Oxfordshire, Reaction Engines Limited, made this proposal.

The idea of the Skylon Spaceplane is to release a 13-ton payload after accelerating to Mach 23 orbital speed and reentering the Earth’s atmosphere to land back to the runway. Since the Skylon’s approach used single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO), the designers aimed to keep the launch costs low and provide a new method for private enterprises. Although the Skylon Spaceplane has not been manufactured, the Reaction Engines Limited is seeking to build its prototype.

The Skylon Spaceplane is designed 40 percent longer than the Space Shuttle, with a length of 269 feet, a wingspan of 83 feet and a fuselage diameter of 20.5 feet. It has a fuel mass of 485,000 pounds and a maximum payload mass of 26,450 pounds. The idea and design of the Spaceplan is similar to the SR-71 Blackbird, but with a rocket engine and twice its size.

A distinct characteristic of the Spaceplane is its usage of the rocket engine called Synergic Air Breathing Engine (SABRE), which is a bi-modal engine that is fueled by liquid hydrogen. With this engine, low-weight alloys can be used in construction, while reducing fuel mass. One completed, the Skylon Spaceplane can take up to 200 trips to orbit before needing replacements and could re-launch after two-day maintenance. It is a less expensive alternative to the rockets used today.

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