Speaker interview: Shaun Driscoll, Programmes Director of Reaction Engines

headshotHi Shaun, could you please tell us a little bit more about your position with Reaction Engines?

I am Programmes Director at Reaction Engines. My main role is to deliver the innovative SABRE™ propulsion system development programme. SABRE (Synergetic Air Breathing Rocket Engine) is an air-breathing rocket engine that will transform our ability to access space and fly around the world at hypersonic speeds, so very exciting stuff! I also manage the relationships with our space agency partners, primarily UK Space Agency and ESA, although these are growing across Europe and beyond.


You will participate in the When Air Meets Space: Outlining the Potential of Spaceliners for New End-User Industries panel at the Industry Conference on Thursday, 21 November. What are the main challenges the suborbital spaceflight market is facing at the moment, do you think?

Safety is clearly a key issue as passengers will undoubtedly be expecting similar safety levels to airliners, which have developed very high safety levels in recent times. So there is a question around whether it will be possible to engineer suborbital tourism vehicles at a price point that results in a viable business case, while delivering a very low probability of serious incidents. By way of comparison, current airliners only achieve certification when they have a proven safety case of 10-7 loss rate per flight hour, whereas current rockets achieve around 10-2 per flight. Obviously, it needs a lot more engineering, redundancy and testing to improve safety – all of which increases the cost and erodes the business case.


What makes the SABRE engine stand out when compared with aircraft and spacecraft engines?

SABRE is a truly unique and exciting proposition. Its hybrid aero engine and rocket engine design enabled by Reaction Engines’ patented pre-cooler technology provides the ability to breathe atmospheric air and transition into rocket mode within a single propulsion system. This makes the engine extremely efficient (unlike current rockets) while also having the high power of a rocket compared with current aircraft engines. Therefore, fully reusable hypersonic (up to and above Mach 5) spaceplanes can be architected, providing low-cost, high-cadence aircraft-like operations for future space access missions, which could ultimately replace conventional rocketry.


How do you see the market of hypersonic aviation and suborbital spaceflight developing as new technologies become available?

There is massive interest right now in hypersonic aviation, spurred on by some amazing technological advances and the exciting vision of less traditional and more disruptive organisations and leaders. The cyber world is definitely bringing us all closer together in a virtual sense. However, we will always crave and need faster, more efficient and greener global travel solutions and so the market for this will grow and capabilities will evolve to address this probably sooner than we think.


In terms of industry news, what development, announcement or otherwise has stood out most to you in the past year and why?

I think in general the growing profile that the space industry has had overall in the last year has been significant. With new emerging space nations and existing players announcing ever more visionary plans, there are great market opportunities and an extremely positive industry profile for talented people to be inspired to develop new ideas, products and services.


If you could have one historical figure over to dinner, who would it be and why?

I am a big sports fan and admire those with skill and courage and who can entertain, so I would go for Muhammad Ali as he was “the greatest”!


We’re looking forward to seeing you at the Industry Conference at Space Tech Expo Europe. What are you most looking forward to at the show?

I’m excited to be visiting Bremen, which is a recognised centre for the space and aerospace industry. I expect the conference to provide a great opportunity to be part of the New Space community, and I hope to engage with like-minded people. So there’s great potential to form further industry and agency collaborations.

Join Shaun at the free-to-attend Industry Conference at Space Tech Expo Europe 19-21 November 2019.