Hydrogen fuel is a promising technology, but the economics and infrastructure just aren’t there for cars yet. But what about spacecraft? The European Space Agency has just reviewed and pass a hydrogen-powered spaceship called the Skylon.
Powered by Sabre engines, what makes the Skylon unique is that it (in theory) can take off and land at a conventional airport and achieve low orbit. It does this by scavenging air from lower altitudes, rather than having to carry extra oxygen to burn in what are essentially rocket boosters. Air entering the Sabre engines will need to be cooled from 2,000 degrees to -200 degrees in about 1/100th of a second. The solution? Feed the air through tiny tubes in a pre-cooler before burning the oxygen in the engine.
Sounds complicated, right? And yet the ESA reviewed and passed this project, which means the next step is to build a working prototype of the engine. Sounds far out to me, but the concept does have some merit. If the Skylon has to carry a minimal amount of oxygen on board to achieve orbit, that makes room for more people, research equipment, and what have you. Right now the heaviest cargo on the soon-to-be-retired space shuttles is the actual fuel itself. Another bonus? Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. This technology could prove to be a huge boon in humanity’s quest to conquer the stars.
With ingenuity like this, the universe doesn’t stand a chance.
Chris DeMorro is a writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs. You can read about his slow descent into madness at Sublime Burnout or follow his non-nonsensical ramblings on Twitter @harshcougar.