I’ve just been to an absolutely fascinating talk on the engineering and development of the Skylon space plane here in Bristol. The room was packed to overflowing with people and I gained the impression the organisers were very pleased to see us.
One of the things they showed was the new updated promo film for Skylon. It isn’t even on the REL website and there have been some very nice touches added to the old one that’s still there on the website. But I won’t spoil it for you.
Some interesting facts – and remember they hope to start flying prototypes in four years time! The Skylon plane’s skin is made of black glass that flexes. We saw the speaker actually bend one of the tiles!
They are putting a test programme in place to ensure it has accredited airworthiness to fly passengers. There will be no special permissions or the like.
They use an oxygen and hydrogen mix as fuel. There’s only one mix that’s more effective and that’s hydrogen and fluorine. Unfortunately it produces hydrogen fluoride, which of course as you all know, would have a detrimental environmental impact.
Whilst they would need a 5.6km runway for the take off, it could in theory land on a short grass strip as it is so slow in coming down.
If it has to do an emergency brake on take off, it will use water. If it doesn’t do an emergency brake, it has to dump this water shortly after take off before it raise its landing gear into the hold. There were even jokes about the end of the runway turning into a beautiful rose garden… well only the English can think of something like that.
Although Skylon has many vital parts to its design, the one every engineer seems to ask about is the heat exchanger in the engine. Well, they’ve seemed to have cracked the manufacturing part of the problem and are now looking to shorten the manufacturing time even further. This was one of the bugbears that every know-it-all said couldn’t be done. Now it remains for the next set of experiments to be successful and they should be happening shortly.
And here’s an even more bizarre thing….. We saw German involvement offering vital test facilities. We saw French involvement with developing some vital material. Hinted at Sweden or Norway providing a runway. But there seemed to be absolutely no involvement from the Americans. Not quite sure why.
It’s putting little details like this into a story that can help make it come alive, especially a science fiction one.
Even if we don’t write about Skylon directly, some of the technologies they are coming up with will be used in subsequent space planes… you know like the black ribbed glass tiles for the skin.
So I would recommend any near-future science fiction writer to take a look at the REL site for details on Skylon and pinch the odd detail or two for their story, if they can’t use Skylon itself.