REL has successfully demonstrated a high efficiency full scale contra-rotating turbine at its engine test site.
Contra-rotating turbine technology has advantages in pre-cooled engines both for space access and for Mach 5 cruise.
This is because the air compressor in the SABRE engine is driven by a helium or hydrogen turbine giving a large speed of sound mismatch between the turbine and compressor. Selecting a contra-rotating turbine increases relative blade speeds and eliminates the turbine stators giving a mass saving and efficiency increase.
REL has successfully tested, with EADS-Astrium and the German Space Agency DLR, liquid oxygen (LOX) cooled combustion chamber and hydrogen film cooled combustion chamber technologies needed by SABRE engines.
Testing of altitude compensating nozzles, which can give increased efficiency over a wide range of altitudes compared to conventional rocket nozzles, is being undertaken at REL. Successful development of this technology will enable an increase in SABRE engine performance.
REL has designed and tested a new rocket combustion chamber that reduces NOx emissions by approximately 98% compared to standard designs, reducing the environmental impact of the Mach 5 cruise application of the engine.
There is a an ongoing research programme being undertaken with Gas Dynamics Ltd to both analyse through computer modelling and then experimentally test the SABRE nacelle intake using in-house codes and their hypersonic gun tunnel operating in Ludweig tube mode.