Precooled jet engine

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

A precooled jet engine is a concept for high speed jet engines that features a cryogenic fuel-cooled heat exchanger immediately after the air intake to precool the air entering the engine. After gaining heat and vapourising in the heat exchanger system, the fuel (e.g. H2) burns in the combustor. Precooled jet engines have never flown but are predicted to have much higher thrust and efficiency at speeds up to Mach 5.5. Precooled jet engines were described by Robert P. Carmichael in 1955.[1]

Pre-cooled engines avoid needing an air condenser because, unlike Liquid air cycle engines (LACE), pre-cooled engines cool the air without liquefying it.

Advantages of precoolers[edit]

One main advantage of pre-cooling is that, for a given overall pressure ratio, there is a significant reduction in compressor delivery temperature (T3), which delays the onset of the T3 limit as flight speed increases. Consequently, sea-level conditions (corrected flow) can be maintained after the pre-cooler over a very wide range of flight speeds, thus maximizing net thrust even at high speeds.[citation needed]


Precoolers were first proposed as part of the research in America on Project Suntan- a liquid hydrogen fuelled aircraft. Robert P. Carmichael in 1955 devised several engine cycles that could be used with hydrogen fuel, and this was one.[2]

Interest in precooled engines saw a brief emergence in the UK in 1982, when Alan Bond (formerly of the Blue Streak missile project) created a LACE-like design he called SATAN. The primary difference of these systems is that the air is only cooled, rather than liquified, and thus the gases are not actually separated, apparently giving significantly greater overall performance, due to a reduction in the amount of hydrogen used for cooling.

At the same time, John Scott and Bob Parkinson at British Aerospace had started some preliminary work on reusable launch systems. The two teams met and created HOTOL, which would use the BAe designed airframe with a Rolls Royce version of Bond's engine, known as the RB545. In 1986 the project was given an official go-ahead to the tune of 2 million pounds for research, but the program was later cancelled in 1989 when the project encountered problems and the government ended funding.

The principal designers continued development on their own, but the RB545 had been classified top secret and could not be used. Instead Bond founded Reaction Engines, which developed another version that is more advanced, known as SABRE (ostensibly for Synergic Air BReathing Engine) which is meant for their Skylon design.In 2008 a study of an aircraft powered by a SABRE class engine was undertaken under LAPCAT, partially funded by the EU looking towards hypersonic intercontinental travel (Brussels to Sydney in 2–4 hours non stop).[3] This demonstrated that the SABRE engine class has applicability for air-breathing hypersonic flight.

Despite the design's potential to power an SSTO craft, Reaction Engines was unable to attract funding for a demonstrator engine until it had proven operation of the required pre-cooler heat exchanger and associated novel frost control technology. Having done so in 2012, REL gained a UK government grant of £60 million in 2013 and further investment of £20.6 million from BAE Systems in 2015.[4][5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ NASA history Other Interests in Hydrogen
  2. ^ NASA history Other Interests in Hydrogen
  3. ^ Rob Coppinger (15 June 2006). "EU €7m hypersonic research plan considers UK-designed Mach 5 aircraft to fly Brussels to Sydney in 2h". Flight International. Retrieved 2009-07-03. 
  4. ^ "Story so far | Reaction Engines". Reaction Engines. Retrieved 2017-01-11. 
  5. ^ "BAE Systems and Reaction Engines to develop a ground breaking new aerospace engine". BAE Systems.