Described as the next step in powered flight, defence giant BAE Systems is to make a £20 million investment in a revolutionary new engine with the capability of flying a jet from London to Sydney in four hours.

BAE systems funding a London-Sydney rocket.

BAE systems funding a London-Sydney rocket. Image by Kārlis Dambrāns / CC BY 2.0

BAE has taken a one-fifth stake in Reaction Engines as it develops a motor with the power to drive planes at up to 4000mph. That is five times the speed of sound and twice the speed Concorde could attain in its heyday. The MirrorOnline reported that the minister for universities and science, Jo Johnson described the investment as a boost for British engineering and technology.

The Synengetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (Sabre) can “breathe” air when in the Earth’s atmosphere, sucking it to burn hydrogen fuel. While it is able to cool superheated air in less than 1/100th of a second, once it is in space, it operates like a traditional rocket booster by burning oxygen.

The European Space Agency has independently validated the “viability” of the Sabre engine. A prototype is being built by Reaction Engines- to be operated on the ground – with a view to proving the potential of its technology.