BAE has invested in a firm that's developing a new hybrid rocket/jet engine that could be used to propel aircraft into space.
The firm has purchased a 20 per cent stake in Reaction Engines for £20.6 million.
Based at the Culham Science Centre near Abingdon in Oxfordshire, Reaction says its Sabre engine technology could enable satellites to be launched into space for a fraction of the current cost and it might be suitable for passenger flights, getting people to anywhere in the world in four hours or less.
An aircraft using one of these engines could take off from a runway, then accelerate to more than five times the speed of sound. After that, it would switch to rocket mode, propelling the aircraft into orbit.
The firm has also created designs for a plane – called Skylon – that would use the engine technology.
Reaction hopes to have a ground-based test engine working within the next ten years – and unmanned test flights are hoped to start by 2025.
Commenting on the BAE investment, Mark Thomas, managing director of Reaction Engines said: "Today's announcement represents an important landmark in the transition of Reaction Engines from a company that has been focused on the research and testing of enabling technologies for the Sabre engine to one that is now focused on the development and testing of the world's first Sabre engine."
Nigel Whitehead, group managing director of programmes and support at BAE Systems, called Reaction Engines a "highly innovative UK company". He explained that collaboration with the firm "gives BAE Systems a strategic interest in a breakthrough air and space technology with significant future potential".
Recently, competition has been increasing among firms that launch satellites.
Elon Musk, the billionaire behind Tesla Motors, has backed SpaceX, a firm that uses conventional rockets to carry satellites into space, as well as bringing supplies to the International Space Station.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has financed a firm called Blue Origin, which is working to create a fully reusable space vehicle. And Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic has developed its own launch system that involves having a plane carry a rocket to high altitude.
On Monday (November 2nd), shares in BAE closed at 443.90 pence, 0.82 per cent up from its previous close.
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