Rolls-Royce Boosts Supersonic Propulsion Effort in Reaction Deal

Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc is strengthening a partnership with Britain’s Reaction Engines to work on high-speed aircraft engines which could be used for a Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. supersonic jet.

Rolls-Royce will invest 20 million pounds ($24 million) in Reaction, according to a spokeswoman for the larger manufacturer. The companies, which have worked together since 2018, will explore opportunities in hypersonic and supersonic flight.

The agreement is part of a wider push from Rolls-Royce into the realm, after recently announced partnerships with Virgin Galactic and Boom Technology Inc., a startup competing to bring a new supersonic aircraft to the market.

Reaction Engines has developed a turbine which it calls an “air-breathing rocket engine” that can operate in both normal flight and in space. It rapidly cools air, allowing aircraft to go from zero to five times the speed of sound and even faster in space flight.

Rolls-Royce plans to explore how this technology could be used in the company’s own combustion engines, as well as its potential use in future hybrid-electric propulsion systems as it looks to make flying more efficient and sustainable, the company’s director of global strategy and business development, Mark Thompson, said in a statement.

The push into hypersonic flight comes as Rolls-Royce’s more traditional business making engines for long-haul passenger jets has been gutted by the coronavirus. The company supplied the Concorde, the world’s only civil-certified supersonic aircraft to date, but in the intervening years questions have been raised about the noise and environmental impact of high-speed flying.

Rolls-Royce is downsizing its traditional wide-body engine business after the virus shattered demand for long-haul flights. The company, which announces its first-half results next week, has embarked on a global restructuring targeting the elimination of 9,000 jobs. It is also said to be looking to raise as much as 2 billion pounds ($2.6 billion) through an equity offering.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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