A Comparison of Propulsion Concepts for SSTO Reusable Launchers

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R. Varvill; A. Bond (2003), JBIS, 56, 108-117

Refcode: 2003.56.108
Keywords: Reusable launchers, SABRE, SKYLON, SSTO

This paper discusses the relevant selection criteria for a single stage to orbit (SSTO) propulsion system and then reviews the characteristics of the typical engine types proposed for this role against these criteria. The engine types considered include Hydrogen/Oxygen (H2/O2) rockets, Scramjets, Turbojets, Turborockets and Liquid Air Cycle Engines. In the authors opinion none of the above engines are able to meet all the necessary criteria for an SSTO propulsion system simultaneously. However by selecting appropriate features from each it is possible to synthesise a new class of engines which are specifically optimised for the SSTO role. The resulting engines employ precooling of the airstream and a high internal pressure ratio to enable a relatively conventional high pressure rocket combustion chamber to be utilised in both airbreathing and rocket modes. This results in a significant mass saving with installation advantages which by careful design of the cycle thermodynamics enables the full potential of airbreathing to be realised. The SABRE engine which powers the SKYLON launch vehicle is an example of one of these so called `Precooled hybrid airbreathing rocket engines' and the concep- tual reasoning which leads to its main design parameters are described in the paper.

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