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Skylon on runway
The Skylon design omits infrastructure such as booster rockets and external fuel tanks, which should keep the cost of the project down in comparison with traditional spacecraft. Additionally, the craft will take off and land on a conventional runway, avoiding the expense of dedicated launch facilities.
Once it has completed its mission, Skylon can re-enter the Earth's atmosphere and land like a traditional aeroplane. Ths means it can be prepared for another mission within a short time frame.
Re-entry occurs approximately 10km higher than the space shuttle. The temperature on re-entry is kept down to 1100 Kelvin (K) by dynamically controlling the trajectory based on feedback from external surfaces.
"Skylon differs from other spaceplane configurations in several key respects," the ESA said in its report. "Apart from the unique propulsion system, the main difference is an aerodynamic configuration that comprises a definite wing plus body. This was selected because it proved to be more optimum in terms of weight, lift and volume than the more fashionable blended bodies frequently portrayed for spaceplanes."
Photo credit: Reaction Engines
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