SABRE-Powered Launch study conclusion for the anticipated 2030+ reusable launch market

December 14, 2020
SABRE-Powered Launch study conclusion for the anticipated 2030+ reusable launch market
Reaction Engines is delighted to announce the conclusion of a concept study, conducted alongside the European Space Agency (ESA) Directorate of Space Transportation, into SABRE-Powered Launch for the anticipated 2030+ launch market.
The ‘New Space Economy’ is a term used to describe the rapid growth of the space industry through an increasing number of commercial entrants offering new space-based products and services.  It offers a vision of the future where these products and services become more integrated into global infrastructure and provide greater benefits to daily life-on-Earth as well as enhancing our ability to explore and learn from the space environment.  However, this vision depends on access-to-space becoming more affordable, more frequent and more reliable than classical launch systems.

Reaction Engines is developing a new air-breathing propulsion technology (SABRE) that can enhance the performance of future air-breathing launch systems. SABRE propulsion technology has the potential to facilitate the development of horizontally launched vehicles that are affordable, reliable and reusable and have high cadence and payload return options.  

The objective of this study was to explore how SABRE would be deployed into a SABRE-Powered Launch system such as to optimise its technical, operational and economic performance within the anticipated global context.


The project was initiated in July 2020 and following an intensive execution phase, completed in early November 2020.  The study successfully met its criteria and used the heritage of previous vehicle concepts to provide an updated perspective on how a SABRE-Powered Launch system would be deployed including engine, vehicle, upper-stage and ground segment.  The study is intended to frame further activity within a 2022-2025 horizon.

The scope of the study including the following:

  • To identify and capture the high level requirements for a SABRE Powered Launch System addressing the projected 2030+ launch market
  • To trade and downselect the launch system concept addressing the high level requirements
  • To develop the business justification for a SABRE- Powered Launch service

Partners involved in the study include:

  • ArianeGroup providing system concept selection and design for exoatmospheric flight phases, cryogenic technologies and upper-stage
  • Bryce Space & Technology, providing market forecast, as well as established business analysis expertise

A full market forecast, business analysis and competitor assessment provided the definition of a technical, commercial and programmatic development space.  The study then converged towards a two-stage to orbit vehicle targeting specific payload classes for insertion into Low-Earth Orbits from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. 

“This ESA-funded study examined the feasibility of a European reusable first stage that operates like an aircraft and is powered by the SABRE engine. The results indicate that this concept is adaptable and could benefit future markets” commented Jérôme Breteau, Future Launchers Preparatory Programme Manager within ESA’s Space Transportation Directorate.

Oliver Nailard, Business Development and Strategy Executive from Reaction Engines says, “We’re seeing an incredible pace of development and change within the space industry.  It is important we understand how SABRE propulsion can be deployed in order to optimise the operational, performance and economic benefits of the concept.  This was a great opportunity to work with ESA and international expertise on that challenge”.

Reaction Engines is currently working on a number of programmes designed to demonstrate key SABRE technology.  In 2019 the Company successfully validated and demonstrated the engines’ remarkable precooler technology which is a critical component for managing the high air inlet temperatures the engine will see at Mach 5 flight.


Image: Test article with precooler

In 2021, the Company will begin ground demonstration of SABRE’s air-breathing core.  This is the part of the engine that converts the thermal energy harnessed by the precooler and uses it to drive the internal components of the engine.