A rendering of Reaction Engines' Skylon aircraft in flight.
The UK will invest £60 million ($91.2 million) into a project to build an aircraft that would fly in outer space and make it possible to take hundreds of passengers anywhere in the world in just four hours.
The investment, announced Wednesday, is being made through the UK Space Agency. It will help British aerospace firm Reaction Engines develop a rocket engine that can run at higher power than what is possible today.
More power means it can fly faster — as fast as Mach 5, chief engineer Alan Bond said in a recent video.
The £60 million will be given to the company in two stages: £35 million in 2014/2015, and £25 million in 2015/2016. It will be used to for technical design work, and improving lightweight heat exchanger technology.
Reaction Engines says the heat exchanger, which rapidly cools hot air entering the engine and passed "vital tests" in November 2012, is the first that is light and efficient enough to be used for space travel.
The engine, called Sabre, would power the Skylon, a 276-foot long unpiloted aircraft that would take off and land horizontally, and cost about $1.1 billion to build.
The project has already passed a UK Space Agency technical assessment, Reaction Engines said in a press release, and test flights are planned for 2020. The company says the next phase of development will create about 1,000 engineering and technology jobs, and 2,000 more jobs "in the wider economy."
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