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The Inside Track Lecture on The Space Industry

Dr Helen Webber, a Performance Engineer at Reaction Engines Ltd. and a Bristol graduate, will offer her inside track on the space industry.

The UK Space industry is fast growing. By 2030 the UK Space Agency has set a target for the industry to turnover £40 billion, representing 10% of the global space industry. So the UK Space industry is an exciting industry to be in with lots of opportunities!

Venue: Pugsley Lecture Theatre (Queen's Building)

Time: 1-2pm

The growth of the industry is driven by the increased global desire for space activities and the commercialisation of space applications.  The true economic potential of space, however, is still yet to be realised. Current space access relies on expensive, unreliable launch systems that ultimately limit the exploitation and scientific exploration of the solar system and beyond. Just like the jet engine transformed the aviation industry, a propulsion system capable of realising a low cost and economical means of accessing low earth orbit would transform the space industry.

Reaction Engines Ltd, based in Oxfordshire, is developing such a propulsion system. The SABRE engine (Synergetic Air-Breathing and Rocket Engine) combines both air-breathing and rocket propulsion technologies to create an overall system that has the thrust, weight, Mach range and performance necessary to enable a fully reusable single stage to orbit launch vehicle - called the Skylon space plane.  This vehicle offers unparalleled operational capability and reliability over current expendable systems.  Such a launch system is the only real means of ever enabling low-cost access to space. 

Helen completed her undergraduate studies in aeronautical engineering at the University of Bristol in 2004 and has since worked at the European Space Research and Technology Centre before completing an experimental PhD programme at the University of Bristol researching the heat transfer enhancement of the Reaction Engine’s SABRE engine precooler.

Helen is here is talk about what it’s like to work at Reaction Engines, the project work she is currently involved in and her hopes for the future of the industry.

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Reaction Engines Ltd. was formed in 1989 by three engineers, Alan Bond, Richard Varvill and John Scott-Scott.  All three have extensive background in aerospace engineering being involved in many rocket and aircraft engine developments, including the RZ2 (LOX-kerosene) rocket engine for the Blue Streak missile, the RZ-20 (LOX-liquid hydrogen) rocket engine and the Spey, RB2111 and EJ200 gas turbine engines. In 1990 Reaction Engines started developing a vehicle concept called SKYLON which incorporated the lessons learned from the HOTOL project. This eventually led to a reconfigured airframe coupled with a more efficient engine called SABRE (Synergistic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine).  Over the last decade this vehicle and engine concept has been extensively studied and the critical technologies have been addressed through both analysis and experimental programmes.  This work has culminated in the current Technology Demonstration Programme which is mainly funded by private investment with a contribution from the UK government via the European Space Agency and is aimed at demonstrating the key technologies associated with the SABRE engine concept, most notably the state-of-the-art heat exchanger technology.  The company has also expanded over the last few years and now employs over 40 people.

The Inside Track Lecture is an industry lecture series aimed primarily at students. Speakers from a range of industries will share their inside knowledge; they are typically University of Bristol graduates from the Faculty, and are asked to give the 'inside track' on what it is like to work in a particular industry or field. Talks will be of interest to students across the Faculty, and will all be followed by a Q&A session, the chance to meet the speaker over refreshments in the Pugsley Lecture Theatre Foyer and a related LinkedIn discussion.

For more information please contact: The Industrial Liaison Office on or 0117 95 45483.

*The Inside Track lectures are open to all University of Bristol students and staff, but if you are from outside the University and would like to attend, please email

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