A vehicle that can take off, fly and land like an airplane, but also travel in space is "the holy grail" of aeronautics.
- A British company is working on a spaceplane that can carry cargo or a pod for passengers to orbit.
- A critical piece of technology for the spaceplane's engines is currently under development.
- The spaceplane could ferry cargo and passengers into space more cheaply than current alternatives.
A British firm is upping the ante in a long-held dream to build an airplane that also can fly in space.
With support from the U.K. Space Agency, Reaction Engines is building a prototype of a critical piece of its spaceplane's technology, which will be tested on a conventional jet engine.
The ultimate goal is Skylon, an unpiloted, air-breathing vehicle that takes off and lands on a runway, and can travel beyond Earth's atmosphere.
Rather than using expensive rocket motors that have to be discarded or refurbished after every flight, Skylon is powered by two hybrid engines that can use oxygen from the air when available or liquid oxygen when there is no air. Its propellant is liquid hydrogen.